Pancreatic islet α-cell tumours that overexpress proglucagon are typically associated with the glucagonoma syndrome, a rare disease entity characterised by necrolytic migratory erythema, impaired glucose tolerance, thromboembolic complications and psychiatric disturbances. Paraneoplastic phenomena associated with enteric overexpression of proglucagon-derived peptides are less well recognized and include gastrointestinal dysfunction and hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia. The diverse clinical manifestations associated with glucagon-expressing tumours can be explained, in part, by the repertoire of tumorally secreted peptides liberated through differential post-translational processing of tumour-derived proglucagon. Proglucagon-expressing tumours may be divided into two broad biochemical subtypes defined by either secretion of glucagon or GLP-1, GLP-2 and the glucagon-containing peptides, glicentin and oxyntomodulin, due to an islet α-cell or enteroendocrine L-cell pattern of proglucagon processing, respectively. In the current review we provide an updated overview of the clinical presentation of proglucagon-expressing tumours in relation to known physiological actions of proglucagon-derived peptides and suggest that detailed biochemical characterisation of the peptide repertoire secreted from these tumours may provide new opportunities for diagnosis and clinical management.
Proglucagon-derived peptides exhibit a diverse range of biological activities including critical roles in regulation of glucose and amino acid metabolism, and possibly also affect energy homeostasis as well as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function.
Clinical manifestations of proglucagon-expressing tumours exhibit marked phenotypic variation possibly due to heterogeneity of their secreted peptide repertoire.
Specific and precise biochemical assessment of individuals with proglucagon-expressing tumours may provide opportunities for improved diagnosis and clinical management.