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Peng Hou, Dingxie Liu and Mingzhao Xing

The BRAF V600E mutation plays an important role in the tumorigenesis of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC). To explore an epigenetic mechanism involved in this process, we performed a genome-wide DNA methylation analysis using a methylated CpG island amplification (MCA)/CpG island microarray system to examine gene methylation alterations after shRNA knockdown of BRAF V600E in thyroid cancer cells. Our results revealed numerous methylation targets of BRAF V600E mutation with a large cohort of hyper- or hypo-methylated genes in thyroid cancer cells, which are known to have important metabolic and cellular functions. As hypomethylation of numerous genes by BRAF V600E was particularly a striking finding, we took a further step to examine the selected 59 genes that became hypermethylated in both cell lines upon BRAF V600E knockdown and found them to be mostly correspondingly under-expressed (i.e. they were normally maintained hypomethylated and over-expressed by BRAF V600E in thyroid cancer cells). We confirmed the methylation status of selected genes revealed on MCA/CpG microarray analysis by performing methylation-specific PCR. To provide proof of concept that some of the genes uncovered here may play a direct oncogenic role, we selected six of them to perform shRNA knockdown and examined its effect on cellular functions. Our results demonstrated that the HMGB2 gene played a role in PTC cell proliferation and the FDG1 gene in cell invasion. Thus, this study uncovered a prominent epigenetic mechanism through which BRAF V600E can promote PTC tumorigenesis by altering the methylation and hence the expression of numerous important genes.

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Zongjing Zhang, Dingxie Liu, Avaniyapuram Kannan Murugan, Zhimin Liu and Mingzhao Xing

The BRAF V600E mutation causes impaired expression of sodium iodide symporter (NIS) and radioiodine refractoriness of thyroid cancer, but the underlying mechanism remains undefined. In this study, we hypothesized that histone deacetylation at the NIS (SLC5A5) promoter was the mechanism. Using the chromatin immunoprecipitation approach, we examined histone acetylation status on the lysine residues H3K9/14, H3K18, total H4, and H4K16 at the NIS promoter under the influence of BRAF V600E. We found that expression of stably or transiently transfected BRAF V600E inhibited NIS expression while the deacetylase inhibitor SAHA stimulated NIS expression in PCCL3 rat thyroid cells. Although BRAF V600E enhanced global histone acetylation, it caused histone deacetylation at the NIS promoter while SAHA caused acetylation in the cells. In human thyroid cancer BCPAP cells harboring homozygous BRAF V600E mutation, BRAF V600E inhibitor, PLX4032, and MEK inhibitor, AZD6244, increased histone acetylation of the NIS promoter, suggesting that BRAF V600E normally maintained histone in a deacetylated state at the NIS promoter. The regions most commonly affected with deacetylation by BRAF V600E were the transcriptionally active areas upstream of the translation start that contained important transcription factor binding sites, including nucleotides −297/−107 in the rat NIS promoter and −692/−370 in the human NIS promoter. Our findings not only reveal an epigenetic mechanism for BRAF V600E-promoted NIS silencing involving histone deacetylation at critical regulatory regions of the NIS promoter but also provide further support for our previously proposed combination therapy targeting major signaling pathways and histone deacetylase to restore thyroid gene expression for radioiodine treatment of thyroid cancer.

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Xiaoli Liu, Justin Bishop, Yuan Shan, Sara Pai, Dingxie Liu, Avaniyapuram Kannan Murugan, Hui Sun, Adel K El-Naggar and Mingzhao Xing

Mutations 1 295 228 C>T and 1 295 250 C>T (termed C228T and C250T respectively), corresponding to −124 C>T and −146 C>T from the translation start site in the promoter of the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene, have recently been reported in human cancers, but not in thyroid cancers yet. We explored these mutations in thyroid cancers by genomic sequencing of a large number of primary tumor samples. We found the C228T mutation in 0 of 85 (0.0%) benign thyroid tumors, 30 of 257 (11.7%) papillary thyroid cancers (PTC), 9 of 79 (11.4%) follicular thyroid cancers (FTC), 3 of 8 (37.5%) poorly differentiated thyroid cancers (PDTC), 23 of 54 (42.6%) anaplastic thyroid cancers (ATC), and 8 of 12 (66.7%) thyroid cancer cell lines. The C250T mutation was uncommon, but mutually exclusive with the C228T mutation, and the two mutations were collectively found in 11 of 79 (13.9%) FTC, 25 of 54 (46.3%) ATC, and 11 of 12 (91.7%) thyroid cancer cell lines. Among PTC variants, the C228T mutation was found in 4 of 13 (30.8%) tall-cell PTC (TCPTC), 23 of 187 (12.3%) conventional PTC, and 2 of 56 (3.6%) follicular variant PTC samples. No TERT mutation was found in 16 medullary thyroid cancer samples. The C228T mutation was associated with the BRAF V600E mutation in PTC, being present in 19 of 104 (18.3%) BRAF mutation-positive PTC vs 11 of 153 (7.2%) the BRAF mutation-negative PTC samples (P=0.0094). Conversely, BRAF mutation was found in 19 of 30 (63.3%) C228T mutation-positive PTC vs 85 of 227 (37.4%) C228T mutation-negative PTC samples (P=0.0094). We thus for the first time, to our knowledge, demonstrate TERT promoter mutations in thyroid cancers, that are particularly prevalent in the aggressive thyroid cancers TCPTC, PDTC, ATC and BRAF mutation-positive PTC, revealing a novel genetic background for thyroid cancers.

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Yangang Wang, Meiju Ji, Wei Wang, Zhimin Miao, Peng Hou, Xinyan Chen, Feng Xu, Guangwu Zhu, Xianlu Sun, Yujun Li, Steven Condouris, Dingxie Liu, Shengli Yan, Jie Pan and Mingzhao Xing

The relationship among BRAF mutation, platelet counts, and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) with respect to clinicopathological outcomes of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) may play a role in PTC pathogenesis but remains undefined. We examined the T1799A BRAF mutation by direct genomic DNA sequencing in 108 primary PTC samples from a Chinese cohort and analyzed its relationship with clinicopathological, hematological, and other laboratory results as well as the levels of expression of PDGF in tumors. We found that the BRAF mutation was significantly associated with extrathyroidal invasion and advanced tumor stages III and IV. Specifically, extrathyroidal invasion was seen in 30/54 (56%) PTC with BRAF mutation versus 18/54 (33%) PTC without the mutation (P=0.02). Tumor stages III and IV were seen in 16/54 (30%) PTC with BRAF mutation versus 7/54 (13%) PTC without the mutation (P=0.04). The BRAF mutation was also significantly associated with a higher platelet count, with 249.28±53.76×109/l in the group of patients with BRAF mutation versus 207.79±58.98×109/l in the group without the mutation (P=0.001). An association of higher platelet accounts with extrathyroidal invasion was also seen, with 242.66±51.85×109/l in patients with extrathyroidal invasion versus 218.49±59.10×109/l in patients without extrathyroidal invasion (P=0.03). The BRAF T1799A-positive PTC tissues harbored a significantly higher level of PDGF-B than BRAF T1799A-negative PTC tissues. The data suggest that the BRAF T1799A mutation is associated with aggressive pathological outcomes of PTC in which high platelet counts and increased PDGF production may play a role.