Growth inhibition of thyroid follicular cell-derived cancers by the opioid growth factor (OGF) - opioid growth factor receptor (OGFr) axis

BMC Cancer. 2009 Oct 18;9:369. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-9-369.


Background: Carcinoma of the thyroid gland is an uncommon cancer, but the most frequent malignancy of the endocrine system. Most thyroid cancers are derived from the follicular cell. Follicular carcinoma (FTC) is considered more malignant than papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC), and anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is one of the most lethal human cancers. Opioid Growth Factor (OGF; chemical term - [Met5]-enkephalin) and its receptor, OGFr, form an inhibitory axis regulating cell proliferation. Both the peptide and receptor have been detected in a wide variety of cancers, and OGF is currently used clinically as a biotherapy for some non-thyroid neoplasias. This study addressed the question of whether the OGF-OGFr axis is present and functional in human thyroid follicular cell - derived cancer.

Methods: Utilizing human ATC (KAT-18), PTC (KTC-1), and FTC (WRO 82-1) cell lines, immunohistochemistry was employed to ascertain the presence and location of OGF and OGFr. The growth characteristics in the presence of OGF or the opioid antagonist naltrexone (NTX), and the specificity of opioid peptides for proliferation of ATC, were established in KAT-18 cells. Dependence on peptide and receptor were investigated using neutralization studies with antibodies and siRNA experiments, respectively. The mechanism of peptide action on DNA synthesis and cell survival was ascertained. The ubiquity of the OGF-OGFr axis in thyroid follicular cell-derived cancer was assessed in KTC-1 (PTC) and WRO 82-1 (FTC) tumor cells.

Results: OGF and OGFr were present in KAT-18 cells. Concentrations of 10-6 M OGF inhibited cell replication up to 30%, whereas NTX increased cell growth up to 35% relative to cultures treated with sterile water. OGF treatment reduced cell number by as much as 38% in KAT-18 ATC in a dose-dependent and receptor-mediated manner. OGF antibodies neutralized the inhibitory effects of OGF, and siRNA knockdown of OGFr negated growth inhibition by OGF. Cell survival was not altered by OGF, but DNA synthesis as recorded by BrdU incorporation was depressed by 28% in OGF-treated cultures compared to those exposed to sterile water. The OGF-OGFr axis was detected and functional in PTC (KTC-1) and FTC (WRO 82-1) cell lines.

Conclusion: These data suggest that OGF and OGFr are present in follicular-derived thyroid cancers, and that OGF serves in a tonically active inhibitory manner to maintain homeostasis of cell proliferation. These results may provide a biotherapeutic strategy in the treatment of these cancers.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / metabolism*
  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / physiopathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation* / drug effects
  • Enkephalin, Methionine / metabolism*
  • Enkephalin, Methionine / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Opioid / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / physiopathology


  • Receptors, Opioid
  • methionine-enkephalin receptor
  • Enkephalin, Methionine