Background: Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is an aggressive and highly lethal disease with poor outcomes and resistance to therapy. Despite multimodality treatment, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, response rates remain <15%, with a median time to progression of less than three months. Recent advances in radiotherapy (RT) delivery and gene-expression profiling may help guide patient selection for personalized therapy. The purpose of this study was to characterize the response to radiation in a panel of ATC cell lines and to test alternative RT fractionation schedules for overcoming radioresistance.
Materials and methods: The cellular response to radiation was characterized based on clonogenic assays. Radiation response was correlated with microarray gene-expression data. Hypofractionated and conventional RT was tested in an orthotopic ATC tumor model, and tumor growth was assayed locally and distantly with in vivo and ex vivo bioluminescence imaging.
Results: A spectrum of radiosensitivities was observed in ATC cell lines. Radioresistant cell lines had higher levels of CXCR4 compared to radiosensitive cell lines. Compared to conventionally fractionated RT, hypofractionated RT resulted in significantly improved tumor growth delay, decreased regional and distant metastases, and improved overall survival.
Conclusions: The findings demonstrate the heterogeneity of response to radiation in ATC tumors and the superiority of hypofractionated RT in improving local control, metastatic spread, and survival in preclinical models. These data support the design of clinical trials targeting radioresistant pathways in combination with hypofractionated RT.
Keywords: anaplastic thyroid cancer; radioresistance; radiotherapy.