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Garcilaso Riesco-Eizaguirre and Pilar Santisteban

Well-differentiated thyroid cancer has in general terms a very good outcome. It has a very slow growth rate and, although it metastasises at a relatively high frequency, it has very high survival rates. Whereas the prevalence of nodular thyroid disease worldwide is high, malignant conversion from benign thyroid nodules is rare. Treatment of thyroid cancer is usually successful, but we still do not have effective therapies for patients with invasive or metastatic thyroid cancer if the disease does not concentrate radioiodine and it is not surgically resectable. On the other hand, from the same thyroid cell, one of the most aggressive human tumours can arise – undifferentiated or anaplastic thyroid carcinoma – leading to death in a few months. What features of this malignancy account for such paradoxical behaviour? The most common type of thyroid cancer – papillary thyroid carcinoma – stands out among solid tumours because many of the tumour-initiating events have been identified. All of them function in a single pathway – the RTK/RAS/RAF/MAPK pathway – and obey an ‘exclusivity principle’: one and only one component of the pathway is mutated in a single tumour. This highlights the requirement of this signal transduction pathway for the transformation to thyroid cancer and paves the way to targeted therapies against a tumour with a mutation in a known gene or any gene upstream of the target. However, it is also interesting to underscore the differences among the tumours arising from the different mutations. Studies in vitro and in vivo, including genomic profiling and genetically engineered mouse models, have clearly shown that each oncoprotein exerts its own oncogenic drive, conferring a distinct biological behaviour on thyroid tumours. In this review, we attempt to summarise the most recent advances in thyroid follicular cell-derived cancers research and their potential clinical impact that may change the management of thyroid cancer in the near future.

Free access

Antonio De la Vieja and Pilar Santisteban

Iodide (I) metabolism is crucial for the synthesis of thyroid hormones (THs) in the thyroid and the subsequent action of these hormones in the organism. I is principally transported by the sodium iodide symporter (NIS) and by the anion exchanger PENDRIN, and recent studies have demonstrated the direct participation of new transporters including anoctamin 1 (ANO1), cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and sodium multivitamin transporter (SMVT). Several of these transporters have been found expressed in various tissues, implicating them in I recycling. New research supports the exciting idea that I participates as a protective antioxidant and can be oxidized to hypoiodite, a potent oxidant involved in the host defense against microorganisms. This was possibly the original role of I in biological systems, before the appearance of TH in evolution. I per se participates in its own regulation, and new evidence indicates that it may be antineoplastic, anti-proliferative and cytotoxic in human cancer. Alterations in the expression of I transporters are associated with tumor development in a cancer-type-dependent manner and, accordingly, NIS, CFTR and ANO1 have been proposed as tumor markers. Radioactive iodide has been the mainstay adjuvant treatment for thyroid cancer for the last seven decades by virtue of its active transport by NIS. The rapid advancement of techniques that detect radioisotopes, in particular I, has made NIS a preferred target-specific theranostic agent.

Open access

Jesús Morillo-Bernal, Lara P Fernández and Pilar Santisteban

FOXE1 is a thyroid-specific transcription factor essential for thyroid gland development and maintenance of the differentiated state. Interestingly, a strong association has been recently described between FOXE1 expression and susceptibility to thyroid cancer, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying FOXE1-induced thyroid tumorigenesis. Here, we used a panel of human thyroid cancer-derived cell lines covering the spectrum of thyroid cancer phenotypes to examine FOXE1 expression and to test for correlations between FOXE1 expression, the allele frequency of two SNPs and a length polymorphism in or near the FOXE1 locus associated with cancer susceptibility, and the migration ability of thyroid cancer cell lines. Results showed that FOXE1 expression correlated with differentiation status according to histological sub-type, but not with SNP genotype or cell migration ability. However, loss-and-gain-of-function experiments revealed that FOXE1 modulates cell migration, suggesting a role in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Our previous genome-wide expression analysis identified Zeb1, a major EMT inducer, as a putative Foxe1 target gene. Indeed, gene silencing of FOXE1 decreased ZEB1 expression, whereas its overexpression increased ZEB1 transcriptional activity. FOXE1 was found to directly interact with the ZEB1 promoter. Lastly, ZEB1 silencing decreased the ability of thyroid tumoral cells to migrate and invade, pointing to its importance in thyroid tumor mestastases. In conclusion, we have identified ZEB1 as a bona fide target of FOXE1 in thyroid cancer cells, which provides new insights into the role of FOXE1 in regulating cell migration and invasion in thyroid cancer.

Free access

Miguel A Zaballos, Adrián Acuña-Ruiz, Marta Morante, Piero Crespo and Pilar Santisteban

Thyroid cancer is mostly an ERK-driven carcinoma, as up to 70% of thyroid carcinomas are caused by mutations that activate the RAS/ERK mitogenic signaling pathway. The incidence of thyroid cancer has been steadily increasing for the last four decades; yet, there is still no effective treatment for advanced thyroid carcinomas. Current research efforts are focused on impairing ERK signaling with small-molecule inhibitors, mainly at the level of BRAF and MEK. However, despite initial promising results in animal models, the clinical success of these inhibitors has been limited by the emergence of tumor resistance and relapse. The RAS/ERK pathway is an extremely complex signaling cascade with multiple points of control, offering many potential therapeutic targets: from the modulatory proteins regulating the activation state of RAS proteins to the scaffolding proteins of the pathway that provide spatial specificity to the signals, and finally, the negative feedbacks and phosphatases responsible for inactivating the pathway. The aim of this review is to give an overview of the biology of RAS/ERK regulators in human cancer highlighting relevant information on thyroid cancer and future areas of research.