MicroRNA analysis as a potential diagnostic tool for papillary thyroid carcinoma

Mod Pathol. 2008 Sep;21(9):1139-46. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2008.105. Epub 2008 Jun 27.


MicroRNA (miRNA) microarray analysis has consistently found altered expression of miRNAs in thyroid tumors, suggesting their roles in thyroid carcinogenesis. To explore whether this differential expression can be used as a diagnostic tool in surgical pathology and fine-needle aspirate (FNA) specimens, the expression of selected miRNA was evaluated by quantitative RT-PCR, using total RNA from 84 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues and 40 ex vivo aspirate specimens. miRNA from all paraffin-embedded tissues and all but one FNA sample were found to be analyzable, with paraffin sections yielding better miRNA quality. Preliminary analysis of 6 miRNAs in 10 papillary thyroid carcinoma and 10 follicular adenoma identified significant overexpression of miR-146b, -221, and -222 in papillary thyroid carcinoma (P<0.02), but not miR-146a, -155, or -187 (P>0.08). The expression of these first three miRNAs was examined in a series of 5 normal thyroid, 11 hyperplastic nodules, 24 follicular adenoma, 27 classical papillary thyroid carcinoma, 5 follicular variant papillary thyroid carcinoma, 2 follicular carcinoma, and 10 encapsulated follicular lesions with partial nuclear features of papillary carcinoma. Results showed miR-146b to be most consistently overexpressed in both classical papillary carcinoma and follicular variants, whereas all other groups showed lower expression at a similar level (P<0.001 for pair-wise comparisons between papillary carcinoma and all other groups). Follicular lesions with partial features of papillary carcinoma all showed low miR-146b levels similar to other non-papillary carcinoma groups, suggesting that they are biologically distinctive from papillary carcinoma. miR-221 and miR-222 also showed higher expression in papillary carcinoma, but with substantial overlaps with the other groups. When applied to 40 FNA samples of various lesions, only miR-146b and miR-222 persisted as distinguishing markers for papillary carcinoma. We concluded that miRNAs, particularly miR-146b, might potentially be adjunct markers for diagnosing papillary thyroid carcinoma in both FNA and surgical pathology specimens.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / diagnosis
  • Adenoma / genetics*
  • Adenoma / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Paraffin Embedding
  • RNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism
  • Thyroid Gland / pathology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Thyroid Nodule / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Nodule / genetics*
  • Thyroid Nodule / metabolism
  • Thyroidectomy


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Neoplasm