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Daniela Cordella, Marina Muzza, Luisella Alberti, Paolo Colombo, Pietro Travaglini, Paolo Beck-Peccoz, Laura Fugazzola, and Luca Persani

Activating mutations of the RET proto-oncogene are associated with inherited syndromes, multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A/2B) and with familial and sporadic medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). Single base pair missense mutations in the extracellular Cys-rich domain are responsible for most MEN2A and familial MTC (FMTC) cases. Rarely, somatic deletions and germline duplications have been described in sporadic MTC and in FMTC. We report the detection and functional studies of a deletion/insertion in exon 11 (c.2646delGinsTTCT) associated with FMTC. This in-frame complex rearrangement leads to an Asn to Lys change (Lys666Asn) and to a Ser insertion. The mutation was found in the proband, who was diagnosed with metastatic MTC at 41 years, and in her son, who presented diffuse C-cells hyperplasia at 4 years of age. The mutation displayed a transforming activity stronger than Ret wild type (Ret-WT) at the focus formation assay and functional analyses after transient and stable transfection revealed an increased autophosphorylation, indicating the constitutive activation of the receptor. The transforming activity may be favoured by an increased stabilization of the fully mature form of the mutant receptor. Dimerization assay demonstrated that the activation mechanism of the complex mutation is not mediated by stable dimer formation. Computational analysis predicted nonconservative alterations in the mutant protein consistent with a possible modification of the conformation of the receptor. In conclusion, the first molecular studies on a complex germline RET mutation lying in the juxtamembrane region of the receptor are reported. Functional analyses showed that alterations at this level too can lead to a ligand independent Ret activation.

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Uberta Verga, Stefano Ferrero, Leonardo Vicentini, Tatiana Brambilla, Valentina Cirello, Marina Muzza, Paolo Beck-Peccoz, and Laura Fugazzola

The cut-off values able to differentiate between reactive or neoplastic C-cell hyperplasia (CCH) or to predict sporadic medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) are still debated both for basal and stimulated calcitonin (bCT and sCT). In the present study, the prevalence and the histological patterns of CCH in 15 patients with multinodular goiter (MNG), bCT>10 pg/ml and sCT levels >50 pg/ml were studied. As controls, 16 patients with MNG and bCT levels <10 pg/ml and 4 patients with familial (FMTC) were included. For each case, calcitonin (CT) immunoreactive cells were counted in 60 consecutive high-power fields (400×) and CCH classified as focal, diffuse, nodular, or neoplastic. RET genetic analyses were performed at the germline and tissue levels in MTC and CCH cases. In patients with MNG, sCT levels >50 pg/ml were associated with CCH or MTC, being the total number of C-cells/60 fields significantly higher than that found in MNG with normal bCT (P = 0.0008) and comparable with that detected in FMTCs. In the group with sCT>50 pg/ml, the C-cells displayed a neoplastic phenotype. Neither germline nor somatic RET mutations were found. In conclusion, sCT levels >50 pg/ml were always associated with CCH, without correlation between CT levels and the number of C-cells or the final diagnosis. The C-cells had a morphology and distribution pattern similar to those observed in FMTC. Thus, sCT levels >50 pg/ml indicate the presence of CCH with a possible preneoplastic potential, suggesting the opportunity to perform a prophylactic surgical treatment.

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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. 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. In conclusion, for the first time, we generated 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.