Integrated ligand-receptor bioinformatic and in vitro functional analysis identifies active TGFA/EGFR signaling loop in papillary thyroid carcinomas.

Debora Degl'Innocenti, Chiara Alberti, Giancarlo Castellano, Angela Greco, Claudia Miranda, Marco A. Pierotti, Ettore Seregni, Maria Grazia Borrello, Silvana Canevari, Antonella Tomassetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTCs), the most frequent thyroid cancer, is usually not life threatening, but may recur or progress to aggressive forms resistant to conventional therapies. A more detailed understanding of the signaling pathways activated in PTCs may help to identify novel therapeutic approaches against these tumors. The aim of this study is to identify signaling pathways activated in PTCs. We examined coordinated gene expression patterns of ligand/receptor (L/R) pairs using the L/R database DRLP-rev1 and five publicly available thyroid cancer datasets of gene expression on a total of 41 paired PTC/normal thyroid tissues. We identified 26 (up) and 13 (down) L/R pairs coordinately and differentially expressed. The relevance of these L/R pairs was confirmed by performing the same analysis on REarranged during Transfection (RET)/PTC1-infected thyrocytes with respect to normal thyrocytes. TGFA/EGFR emerged as one of the most tightly regulated L/R pair. Furthermore, PTC clinical samples analyzed by real-time RT-PCR expressed EGFR transcript levels similar to those of 5 normal thyroid tissues from patients with pathologies other than thyroid cancer, whereas significantly elevated levels of TGFA transcripts were only present in PTCs. Biochemical analysis of PTC cell lines demonstrated the presence of EGFR on the cell membrane and TGFA in conditioned media. Moreover, conditioned medium of the PTC cell line NIM-1 activated EGFR expressed on HeLa cells, culminating in both ERK and AKT phosphorylation. In NIM-1 cells harboring BRAF mutation, TGFA stimulated proliferation, contributing to PI3K/AKT activation independent of MEK/ERK signaling. We compiled a reliable list of L/R pairs associated with PTC and validated the biological role of one of the emerged L/R pair, the TGFA/EGFR, in this cancer, in vitro. These data provide a better understanding of the factors involved in the biology of PTCs and would be useful in developing combination therapeutic approaches against these cancers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12701
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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