Expression of galectin-3 in fine-needle aspirates as a diagnostic marker differentiating benign from malignant thyroid neoplasms

Cancer. 1999 Jun 1;85(11):2475-84.


Background: Galectin-3 is a beta-galactoside-binding protein that has been reported to be expressed preferentially in thyroid malignancies. The current study was designed to substantiate this finding further and to establish a presurgical diagnostic modality of differentiating between benign and malignant thyroid neoplasms by analyzing galectin-3 expression in fine-needle aspirates.

Methods: The expression of galectin-3 was examined immunohistochemically in total of 172 specimens: 45 primary and 20 metastatic papillary carcinomas, 8 primary and 2 metastatic follicular carcinomas, 5 primary and 3 metastatic anaplastic carcinomas, 3 primary medullary carcinomas, 25 follicular adenomas, 3 goiters, and 58 adjacent normal thyroid tissue. Alternatively, epithelial cells were isolated from the fine- needle aspirates of 14 thyroid nodules and subjected to immunoblotting analysis of galectin-3.

Results: Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that all thyroid malignancies of follicular cell origin (including papillary, follicular, and anaplastic carcinomas) showed high and diffuse expression of galectin-3, whereas one of the three medullary carcinomas of parafollicular cell origin displayed weaker and focal expression of galectin-3. In contrast, neither benign thyroid adenomas, goiters, nor normal thyroid tissues expressed galectin-3. Immunoblot analysis of the isolated epithelial cells detected galectin-3 in nine thyroid nodules that were proven histologically to be malignant ( eight papillary carcinomas and one follicular carcinoma) after surgical intervention, whereas galectin-3 was not detected in five nodules proven to be benign follicular adenomas.

Conclusions: Galectin-3 serves as a marker of thyroid malignancy of follicular cell origin. Analysis of galectin-3 expression in fine-needle aspirates enhances the differential diagnostic accuracy between benign and malignant thyroid neoplasms.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Differentiation / analysis*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Galectin 3
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neoplasm Proteins / analysis*
  • Preoperative Care / methods*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Thyroid Nodule / pathology*


  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Galectin 3
  • Neoplasm Proteins