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Carla Colombo, Marina Muzza, Gabriele Pogliaghi, Sonia Palazzo, Guia Vannucchi, Leonardo Vicentini, Luca Persani, Giacomo Gazzano, and Laura Fugazzola

Cytology is the gold standard method for the differential diagnosis of thyroid nodules, though 25-30% of them are classified as indeterminate. We aimed to set up a 'thyroid risk score' (TRS) to increase the diagnostic accuracy in these cases. We prospectively tested 135 indeterminate thyroid nodules. The pre-surgical TRS derived from the sum of the scores assigned at cytology, EU-TIRADS classification, nodule measurement, and molecular characterization, which was done by our PTC-MA assay, a customized array able to cost-effectively evaluate 24 different genetic alterations including point mutations and gene fusions. We found that the risk of malignancy (ROM) increased paralleling the score: in the category >4 and ≤ 6 (low suspicion), >6 ≤ 8 (intermediate suspicion), and >8 (high suspicion), ROM was 10%, 47% and 100%, respectively. ROC curves selected the score >6.5 as the best threshold to differentiate between malignant and benign nodules (P<0.001). The TRS>6.5 had a better performance than the single parameters evaluated separately, with an accuracy of 77% and 82% upon inclusion of noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features among malignant or benign cases, respectively. We generated for the first time a score combining a cost-effective molecular assay with already validated tools, harboring different specificities and sensitivities, for the differential diagnosis of indeterminate nodules. The combination of different parameters reduced the number of false negatives inherent to each classification system. The TRS >6.5 was highly suggestive for malignancy and retained a high accuracy in the identification of patients to be submitted to surgery.

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Kensey Bergdorf, Donna C Ferguson, Mitra Mehrad, Kim Ely, Thomas Stricker, and Vivian L Weiss

The prevalence of thyroid carcinoma is increasing and represents the most common endocrine malignancy, with papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) being the most frequent subtype. The genetic alterations identified in PTCs fail to distinguish tumors with different clinical behaviors, such as extra-thyroidal extension and lymph node metastasis. We hypothesize that the immune microenvironment may play a critical role in tumor invasion and metastasis. Computational immunogenomic analysis was performed on 568 PTC samples in The Cancer Genome Atlas using CIBERSORT, TIMER and TIDE deconvolution analytic tools for characterizing immune cell composition. Immune cell infiltrates were correlated with histologic type, mutational type, tumor pathologic T stage and lymph node N stage. Dendritic cells (DCs) are highly associated with more locally advanced tumor T stage (T3/T4, odds ratio (OR) = 2.6, CI = 1.4–4.5, P = 5.4 × 10−4). Increased dendritic cells (OR = 3.4, CI = 1.9–6.3, P = 5.5 × 10−5) and neutrophils (OR = 10.5, CI = 2.7–44, P = 8.7 × 10−4) significantly correlate with lymph node metastasis. In addition, dendritic cells positively correlate with tall cell morphology (OR = 4.5, CI = 1.6–13, P = 4.9 × 10−3) and neutrophils negatively correlate with follicular morphology (OR = 1.3 × 10−3, CI = 5.3 × 10−5–0.031, P = 4.1 × 10−5). TIDE analysis indicates an immune-exclusive phenotype that may be mediated by increased galectin-3 found in PTCs. Thus, characterization of the PTC immune microenvironment using three computational platforms shows that specific immune cells correlate with mutational type, histologic type, local tumor extent and lymph node metastasis. Immunologic evaluation of PTCs may provide a better indication of biologic behavior, resulting in the improved diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer.

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Margarida M Moura, Branca M Cavaco, and Valeriano Leite

Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) is a rare malignancy originating from the calcitonin-secreting parafollicular thyroid C cells. Approximately 75% of cases are sporadic. Rearranged during transfection (RET) proto-oncogene plays a crucial role in MTC development. Besides RET, other oncogenes commonly involved in the pathogenesis of human cancers have also been investigated in MTC. The family of human RAS genes includes the highly homologous HRAS, KRAS, and NRAS genes that encode three distinct proteins. Activating mutations in specific hotspots of the RAS genes are found in about 30% of all human cancers. In thyroid neoplasias, RAS gene point mutations, mainly in NRAS, are detected in benign and malignant tumors arising from the follicular epithelium. However, recent reports have also described RAS mutations in MTC, namely in HRAS and KRAS. Overall, the prevalence of RAS mutations in sporadic MTC varies between 0–43.3%, occurring usually in tumors with WT RET and rarely in those harboring a RET mutation, suggesting that activation of these proto-oncogenes represents alternative genetic events in sporadic MTC tumorigenesis. Thus, the assessment of RAS mutation status can be useful to define therapeutic strategies in RET WT MTC. MTC patients with RAS mutations have an intermediate risk for aggressive cancer, between those with RET mutations in exons 15 and 16, which are associated with the worst prognosis, and cases with other RET mutations, which have the most indolent course of the disease. Recent results from exome sequencing indicate that, besides mutations in RET, HRAS, and KRAS, no other recurrent driver mutations are present in MTC.

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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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Iñigo Landa, Cristina Montero-Conde, Donatella Malanga, Silvia De Gisi, Guillermo Pita, Luis-Javier Leandro-García, Lucía Inglada-Pérez, Rocío Letón, Carmela De Marco, Cristina Rodríguez-Antona, Giuseppe Viglietto, and Mercedes Robledo

The aim of this study is to assess if common genetic variants located in the CDKN1B locus, coding for the cell cycle inhibitor p27Kip1, are involved in thyroid cancer susceptibility. Based on the literature and functional predictions, we selected three polymorphisms within the CDKN1B gene (rs2066827 (T326G, V109G), rs34330 (−79C>T) and rs36228499 (−838C>A)) to perform the first case–control study in thyroid cancer involving this locus. We had 649 Spanish patients with sporadic thyroid cancer and 385 healthy representative controls available. Luciferase reporter gene assays, real-time quantitative reverse transcription-PCR and immunoblot experiments were carried out to demonstrate the putative effect of the associated variant. The polymorphism rs34330 (−79C>T) was identified as a risk factor for developing the follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (FVPTC), fitting a recessive model (odds ratio=2.12; 95% confidence interval=1.09–4.15; P value=0.023). The risk allele (T) of this single nucleotide polymorphism led to a lower transcription rate in cells transfected with a luciferase reporter driven by the polymorphic p27Kip1 promoter (P value <0.001). This effect was observed in −79TT genotype control carriers, who showed a tendency towards lower CDKN1B mRNA levels in lymphocytes, as well as at the protein level. This is the first study that identifies CDKN1B as a low-penetrance gene in thyroid cancer, and specifically in FVPTC subtype. We propose a reduced CDKN1B gene transcription depending on the genotype of the −79C>T (rs34330) variant as a novel mechanism underlying p27Kip1 downregulation.

Free access

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.

Free access

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.

Open access

Ying Ni, Spencer Seballos, Shireen Ganapathi, Danielle Gurin, Benjamin Fletcher, Joanne Ngeow, Rebecca Nagy, Richard T Kloos, Matthew D Ringel, Thomas LaFramboise, and Charis Eng

Along with breast and endometrial cancers, thyroid cancer is a major component cancer in Cowden syndrome (CS). Germline variants in SDHB/C/D (SDHx) genes account for subsets of CS/CS-like cases, conferring a higher risk of breast and thyroid cancers over those with only germline PTEN mutations. To investigate whether SDHx alterations at both germline and somatic levels occur in apparently sporadic breast cancer and differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC), we analyzed SDHx genes in the following four groups: i) 48 individuals with sporadic invasive breast adenocarcinoma for germline mutation; ii) 48 (expanded to 241) DTC for germline mutation; iii) 37 pairs DTC tumor-normal tissues for germline and somatic mutation and mRNA expression levels; and iv) data from 476 patients in the Cancer Genome Atlas thyroid carcinoma dataset for validation. No germline SDHx variant was found in a pilot series of 48 breast cancer cases. As germline SDHx variants were found in our pilot of 48 thyroid cancer cases, we expanded to three series of DTC comprising a total 754 cases, and found 48 (6%) with germline SDHx variants (P<0.001 compared with 0/350 controls). In 513 tumors, we found 27 (5%) with large somatic duplications within chromosome 1 encompassing SDHC. Both papillary and follicular thyroid tumors showed consistent loss of SDHC/D gene expression (P<0.001), which is associated with earlier disease onset and higher pathological-TNM stage. Therefore, we conclude that both germline and somatic SDHx mutations/variants occur in sporadic DTC but are very rare in sporadic breast cancer, and overall loss of SDHx gene expression is a signature of DTC.

Free access

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.

Free access

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.