Glucagon like peptide-1 receptor expression in the human thyroid gland

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Jan;97(1):121-31. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-2407. Epub 2011 Oct 26.


Background: Glucagon like peptide-1 (GLP-1) mimetic therapy induces medullary thyroid neoplasia in rodents. We sought to establish whether C cells in human medullary thyroid carcinoma, C cell hyperplasia, and normal human thyroid express the GLP-1 receptor.

Methods: Thyroid tissue samples with medullary thyroid carcinoma (n = 12), C cell hyperplasia (n = 9), papillary thyroid carcinoma (n = 17), and normal human thyroid (n = 15) were evaluated by immunofluorescence for expression of calcitonin and GLP-1 receptors.

Results: Coincident immunoreactivity for calcitonin and GLP-1 receptor was consistently observed in both medullary thyroid carcinoma and C cell hyperplasia. GLP-1 receptor immunoreactivity was also detected in 18% of papillary thyroid carcinoma (three of 17 cases). Within normal human thyroid tissue, GLP-1 receptor immunoreactivity was found in five of 15 of the examined cases in about 35% of the total C cells assessed.

Conclusions: In humans, neoplastic and hyperplastic lesions of thyroid C cells express the GLP-1 receptor. GLP-1 receptor expression is detected in 18% papillary thyroid carcinomas and in C cells in 33% of control thyroid lobes. The consequence of long-term pharmacologically increased GLP-1 signaling on these GLP-1 receptor-expressing cells in the thyroid gland in humans remains unknown, but appropriately powered prospective studies to exclude an increase in medullary or papillary carcinomas of the thyroid are warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • COS Cells
  • Carcinoma
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine
  • Carcinoma, Papillary
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / metabolism
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia / metabolism
  • Hyperplasia / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Glucagon / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Gland / pathology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Validation Studies as Topic
  • Young Adult


  • GLP1R protein, human
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Receptors, Glucagon
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1

Supplementary concepts

  • Thyroid cancer, medullary