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David Viola, Laura Valerio, Eleonora Molinaro, Laura Agate, Valeria Bottici, Agnese Biagini, Loredana Lorusso, Virginia Cappagli, Letizia Pieruzzi, Carlotta Giani, Elena Sabini, Paolo Passannati, Luciana Puleo, Antonio Matrone, Benedetta Pontillo-Contillo, Valentina Battaglia, Salvatore Mazzeo, Paolo Vitti, and Rossella Elisei

Abstract

Thyroid cancer is rare, but it is the most frequent endocrine malignancy. Its prognosis is generally favorable, especially in cases of well-differentiated thyroid cancers (DTCs), such as papillary and follicular cancers, which have survival rates of approximately 95% at 40 years. However, 15–20% of cases became radioiodine refractory (RAI-R), and until now, no other treatments have been effective. The same problems are found in cases of poorly differentiated (PDTC) and anaplastic (ATC) thyroid cancers and in at least 30% of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) cases, which are very aggressive and not sensitive to radioiodine. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) represent a new approach to the treatment of advanced cases of RAI-R DTC, MTC, PDTC, and, possibly, ATC. In the past 10 years, several TKIs have been tested for the treatment of advanced, progressive, and RAI-R thyroid tumors, and some of them have been recently approved for use in clinical practice: sorafenib and lenvatinib for DTC and PDTC and vandetanib and cabozantinib for MTC. The objective of this review is to present the current status of the treatment of advanced thyroid cancer with the use of innovative targeted therapies by describing both the benefits and the limits of their use based on the experiences reported so far. A comprehensive analysis and description of the molecular basis of these therapies, as well as new therapeutic perspectives, are reported. Some practical suggestions are given for both the choice of patients to be treated and their management, with particular regard to the potential side effects.

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Yulong Li and William F Simonds

Familial syndromes of hyperparathyroidism, including multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN2A), and the hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor (HPT-JT), comprise 2–5% of primary hyperparathyroidism cases. Familial syndromes of hyperparathyroidism are also associated with a range of endocrine and nonendocrine tumors, including potential malignancies. Complications of the associated neoplasms are the major causes of morbidities and mortalities in these familial syndromes, e.g., parathyroid carcinoma in HPT-JT syndrome; thymic, bronchial, and enteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors in MEN1; and medullary thyroid cancer and pheochromocytoma in MEN2A. Because of the different underlying mechanisms of neoplasia, these familial tumors may have different characteristics compared with their sporadic counterparts. Large-scale clinical trials are frequently lacking due to the rarity of these diseases. With technological advances and the development of new medications, the natural history, diagnosis, and management of these syndromes are also evolving. In this article, we summarize the recent knowledge on endocrine neoplasms in three familial hyperparathyroidism syndromes, with an emphasis on disease characteristics, molecular pathogenesis, recent developments in biochemical and radiological evaluation, and expert opinions on surgical and medical therapies. Because these familial hyperparathyroidism syndromes are associated with a wide variety of tumors in different organs, this review is focused on those endocrine neoplasms with malignant potential.

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Hai-Yan Zhang, Hua-Qin Wang, Hai-Mei Liu, Yifu Guan, and Zhen-Xian Du

DJ-1, a cancer-associated protein protects cells from multiple toxic stresses. The expression of DJ-1 and its influence on thyroid cancer cell death has not been investigated so far. We analyzed DJ-1 expression in human thyroid carcinoma cell lines and the effect of DJ-1 on tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis. DJ-1 was expressed in human thyroid carcinoma cell lines; small interfering RNA-mediated downregulation of its levels significantly sensitized thyroid carcinoma cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, whereas the forced exogenous expression of DJ-1 significantly suppressed cell death induced by TRAIL. We also report here that TRAIL-induced thyroid cancer cell apoptosis is mediated by oxidative stress and that DJ-1, a potent nutritional antioxidant, protects cancer cells from apoptosis at least in part by impeding the elevation of reactive oxygen species levels induced by TRAIL and impairing caspase-8 activation. Subsequently, we investigated DJ-1 expression in 52 normal and 74 primary thyroid carcinomas from patients of China Medical University. The protein was not detectable in the 52 specimens of normal thyroid, while 70 out of 74 analyzed carcinomas (33 out of 33 follicular, 17 out of 19 papillary, 12 out of 13 medullar, and 8 out of 9 anaplastic) were clearly positive for DJ-1 expression. Our data demonstrated that DJ-1 is specifically expressed in thyroid carcinomas and not in the normal thyroid tissue. In addition, the protein modulates the response to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis in human neoplastic thyroid cells, at least partially through its antioxidant property.

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Tae Hyuk Kim, Young-Eun Kim, Soomin Ahn, Ji-Youn Kim, Chang-Seok Ki, Young Lyun Oh, Kyunga Kim, Jae Won Yun, Woong-Yang Park, Jun-Ho Choe, Jung-Han Kim, Jee Soo Kim, Sun Wook Kim, and Jae Hoon Chung

TERT promoter mutations are emerging prognostic biomarkers in multiple cancers and are found in highly aggressive thyroid cancer. Our aim is to investigate the prognostic value of these mutations for the outcome of thyroid cancer-related mortality in a large cohort of thyroid cancer patients. This was a retrospective study of 409 patients (393 with differentiated thyroid cancer) with a median age of 44 years (range 16–81 years) and median follow-up of 13 years (interquartile range 11–16 years). Analyses of associations between mutational status and various clinicopathological variables were performed. TERT promoter mutations were identified in 32 (9.8%) papillary, 11 (16.7%) follicular and seven (43.8%) poorly differentiated/anaplastic thyroid cancer patients. The presence of TERT promoter mutations was associated with factors such as increased age (P < 0.001), extrathyroidal invasion (P = 0.01), increased stage at diagnosis (P < 0.001) and dedifferentiated histological type (P = 0.001). A TERT promoter mutation was independently associated with poorer overall survival in patients with differentiated thyroid cancer (10-year survival rate, 66.2% vs 98.3% for wild type; adjusted HR, 7.18; 95% CI: 2.77–18.59) and in patients with papillary cancer (74.2% vs 99.3%; 14.20; 3.03–66.68). Concomitant TERT and BRAF mutations worsened the survival rate of patients with papillary cancer (82.6% vs 99.4% for exclusively BRAF mutation alone; 5.62; 1.85–17.09). In conclusion, the presence of TERT promoter mutations is independently associated with increased mortality in patients with differentiated thyroid cancer. The results suggest that inclusion of TERT promoter mutation analysis with conventional clinicopathological evaluation can lead to better prognostication and management for individual patients.

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Kyoungjune Pak, Seong-Jang Kim, In Joo Kim, Bo Hyun Kim, Sang Soo Kim, and Yun Kyung Jeon

The incidence of thyroid cancer in both men and women is increasing faster than that of any other cancer. Although positron emission tomography (PET) using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) has received much attention, the use of FDG PET for the management of thyroid cancer is limited primarily to postoperative follow-up. However, it might have a role in selected, more aggressive pathologies, and so patients at a high risk of distant metastasis may benefit from PET before surgery. As less FDG-avid thyroid cancers may lower the diagnostic accuracy of PET in preoperative assessment, an understanding of FDG avidity is important for the evaluation of thyroid cancer. FDG avidity has been shown to be associated with tumor size, lymph node metastasis, and glucose transporter expression and differentiation. As PET is commonly used in clinical practice, the detection of incidentalomas by PET is increasing. However, incidentalomas detected by PET have a high risk of malignancy. Clinicians handling cytologically indeterminate nodules face a dilemma regarding a procedure for a definitive diagnosis, usually lobectomy. With ‘nondiagnostic (ND)’ fine-needle biopsy (FNA), PET has shown a negative predictive value (NPV) of 100%, which indicates that negative uptake in a ND FNA procedure accurately excludes malignancy. With ‘atypia of undetermined significance’ or ‘follicular neoplasm’, the sensitivity and NPV of PET are 84 and 88%. PET does not provide additional information for the preoperative assessment of thyroid cancer. However, factors associated with FDG positivity are related to a poor prognosis; therefore, FDG PET scans before surgery may facilitate the prediction of the prognosis of differentiated thyroid cancer.

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Sunmi Park, Mark C Willingham, Jun Qi, and Sheue-Yann Cheng

Compelling epidemiological evidence shows a strong positive correlation of obesity with thyroid cancer. In vivo studies have provided molecular evidence that high-fat-diet-induced obesity promotes thyroid cancer progression by aberrantly activating leptin-JAK2-STAT3 signaling in a mouse model of thyroid cancer (Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ mice). The Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ mouse expresses a dominantly negative thyroid hormone receptor β (denoted as PV) and a deletion of one single allele of the Pten gene. The Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ mouse spontaneously develops follicular thyroid cancer, which allows its use as a preclinical mouse model to test potential therapeutics. We recently showed that inhibition of STAT3 activity by a specific inhibitor markedly delays thyroid cancer progression in high-fat-diet-induced obese Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ mice (HFD-Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ mice). Further, metformin, a widely used antidiabetic drug, blocks invasion and metastasis, but not thyroid tumor growth in HFD-Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ mice. To improve efficacy in reducing thyroid tumor growth, we treated HFD-Thrb PV/PV Pten +/ with JQ1, a potent inhibitor of the activity of bromodomain and extraterminal domain (BET) and with metformin. We found that the combined treatment synergistically suppressed thyroid tumor growth by attenuating STAT3 and ERK signaling, resulting in decreased anti-apoptotic key regulators such as Mcl-1, Bcl-2 and survivin and increased pro-apoptotic regulators such as Bim, BAD and cleave caspase 3. Furthermore, combined treatment of JQ1 and metformin reduced cMyc protein levels to suppress vascular invasion, anaplasia and lung metastasis. These findings indicate that combined treatment is more effective than metformin alone and suggest a novel treatment modality for obesity-activated thyroid cancer.

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Thomas A Werner, Inga Nolten, Levent Dizdar, Jasmin C Riemer, Sina C Schütte, Pablo E Verde, Katharina Raba, Matthias Schott, Wolfram T Knoefel, and Andreas Krieg

Follicular thyroid cancer’s (FTC) excellent long-term prognosis is mainly dependent on postoperative radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment. However, once the tumour becomes refractory, the 10-year disease-specific survival rate drops below 10%. The aim of our study was to evaluate the prognostic and biological role of the TRAIL system in FTC and to elucidate the influence of small-molecule-mediated antagonisation of inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs) on TRAIL sensitivity in vitro. Tissue microarrays were constructed from forty-four patients with histologically confirmed FTC. Expression levels of TRAIL and its receptors were correlated with clinicopathological data and overall as well as recurrence-free survival. Non-iodine-retaining FTC cell lines TT2609-bib2 and FTC133 were treated with recombinant human TRAIL alone and in combination with Smac mimetics GDC-0152 or Birinapant. TRAIL-R2/DR5 as well as TRAIL-R3/DcR1 and TRAIL-R4/DcR2 were significantly higher expressed in advanced tumour stages. Both decoy receptors were negatively associated with recurrence-free and overall survival. TRAIL-R4/DcR2 additionally proved to be an independent negative prognostic marker in FTC (HR = 1.446, 95% CI: 1.144–1.826; P < 0.001). In vitro, the co-incubation of Birinapant or GDC-0152 with rh-TRAIL-sensitised FTC cell lines for TRAIL-induced apoptosis, through degradation of cIAP1/2. The TRAIL system plays an important role in FTC tumour biology. Its decoy receptors are associated with poor prognosis as well as earlier recurrence. The specific degradation of cIAP1/2 sensitises FTC cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis and might highlight a new point of attack in patients with RAI refractory disease.

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Sonja Balthasar, Nina Bergelin, Christoffer Löf, Minna Vainio, Sture Andersson, and Kid Törnquist

Sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) induces migration of human ML-1 thyroid follicular cancer cells and inhibits migration of human FRO anaplastic thyroid cancer cells. As tumour cells often secrete vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), we investigated a possible interaction between S1P and VEGF signalling in the regulation of thyroid tumour cell migration. We found that both ML-1 and FRO cells secreted VEGF-A (∼3.6 and <0.1 ng/106 cells/day respectively) and VEGF-C (∼3.0 and 0.14 ng/106 cells/day respectively). S1P stimulated VEGF-A secretion in both cell lines, and blocking S1P receptors 1, 2 and 3 attenuated the S1P-evoked secretion of VEGF-A. Neither TSH nor insulin affected the amount of secreted VEGF-A or -C in ML-1 cells, while simultaneous stimulation with insulin and S1P increased VEGF-C secretion in FRO cells. Both cell lines expressed VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR-2) mRNA and proteins. Serum-evoked migration of both ML-1 and FRO cells was attenuated when VEGFR-2 was inhibited. Moreover, inhibiting VEGFR-2 in ML-1 cells resulted in a rapid downregulation of S1P1 mRNA expression and S1P1 protein levels, suppression of S1P-induced migration and a decrease in S1P-induced Akt phosphorylation. A VEGF-neutralizing antibody also reduced S1P-induced migration. In ML-1 cells, S1P phosphorylated VEGFR-2. In addition, VEGFR-2 inhibition resulted in the upregulation of S1P3 mRNA within 24 h, but a significant increase in S1P3 protein levels was not observed. VEGFR-2 inhibition, but not a VEGF-neutralizing antibody, reduced ML-1 cell proliferation independently of S1P stimulation. The results indicate a complex interaction between S1P and VEGFR-2 in ML-1 cells, particularly in regulating migratory responses.

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Yushan Mao and Mingzhao Xing

Abstract

The incidence rate of thyroid cancer has been rising rapidly in recent decades; however, its trend remains unclear. To investigate this, we analyzed the database of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) 13, 1992–2012 in the USA, particularly focusing on conventional papillary thyroid cancer (CPTC) and follicular variant of PTC (FVPTC). Of the 75,992 thyroid cancers, 61.3% were CPTC and 25.7% were FVPTC, and their incidence rates (IRs) were significantly increased from 1992 to 2012 (P all < 0.001), with CPTC being 2.4 times of FVPTC (P < 0.001) and the overall average annual percent change (AAPC) of incidence being 6.3% in the former and 5.3% in the latter. IRs were increased in all thyroid cancers, albeit most dramatically in PTC, in virtually all ethnic/demographic groups in recent two decades; however, the incidence trends varied among different thyroid cancers, particularly differentiable between CPTC and FVPTC. For example, Joinpoint analyses revealed that the APC of CPTC before 1996 was 1.5% (P > 0.05), which jumped to 6.8% (P < 0.05) after 1996, whereas the APC of FVPTC before 2000 was 6.6% (P < 0.05), which dropped to 4.8% (P < 0.05) after 2000. IRs and incidence trends of PTC were uneven among different ethnic/demographic groups, as exemplified by the lower IRs of both PTC variants in the Black females than in non-Hispanic White females but higher AAPCs of incidence in the former than in the latter. Interestingly, the data also suggest that the rise in the IRs of PTC is becoming plateaued in the most recent 2 years. These novel observations are helpful in understanding the incidence and incidence trends of thyroid cancer.

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Xuguang Zhu, Dong Wook Kim, Li Zhao, Mark C Willingham, and Sheue-yann Cheng

Thyroid cancer is on the rise. Novel approaches are needed to improve the outcome of patients with recurrent and advanced metastatic thyroid cancers. FDA approval of suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA; vorinostat), an inhibitor of histone deacetylase, for the treatment of hematological malignancies led to the clinical trials of vorinostat for advanced thyroid cancer. However, patients were resistant to vorinostat treatment. To understand the molecular basis of resistance, we tested the efficacy of SAHA in two mouse models of metastatic follicular thyroid cancer: ThrbPV/PV and ThrbPV/PVPten+/− mice. In both, thyroid cancer is driven by overactivation of PI3K-AKT signaling. However, the latter exhibit more aggressive cancer progression due to haplodeficiency of the tumor suppressor, the Pten gene. SAHA had no effects on thyroid cancer progression in ThrbPV/PV mice, indicative of resistance to SAHA. Unexpectedly, thyroid cancer progressed in SAHA-treated ThrbPV/PVPten+/− mice with accelerated occurrence of vascular invasion, anaplastic foci, and lung metastasis. Molecular analyses showed further activated PI3K-AKT in thyroid tumors of SAHA-treated ThrbPV/PVPten+/− mice, resulting in the activated effectors, p-Rb, CDK6, p21Cip1, p-cSrc, ezrin, and matrix metalloproteinases, to increase proliferation and invasion of tumor cells. Single-molecule DNA analysis indicated that the wild-type allele of the Pten gene was progressively lost, whereas carcinogenesis progressed in SAHA-treated ThrbPV/PVPten+/− mice. Thus, this study has uncovered a novel mechanism by which SAHA-induced loss of the tumor suppressor Pten gene to promote thyroid cancer progression. Effectors downstream of the Pten loss-induced signaling may be potential targets to overcome resistance of thyroid cancer to SAHA.