Comprehensive Genetic Characterization of Human Thyroid Cancer Cell Lines: A Validated Panel for Preclinical Studies

Clin Cancer Res. 2019 May 15;25(10):3141-3151. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-2953. Epub 2019 Feb 8.


Purpose: Thyroid cancer cell lines are valuable models but have been neglected in pancancer genomic studies. Moreover, their misidentification has been a significant problem. We aim to provide a validated dataset for thyroid cancer researchers.

Experimental design: We performed next-generation sequencing (NGS) and analyzed the transcriptome of 60 authenticated thyroid cell lines and compared our findings with the known genomic defects in human thyroid cancers.

Results: Unsupervised transcriptomic analysis showed that 94% of thyroid cell lines clustered distinctly from other lineages. Thyroid cancer cell line mutations recapitulate those found in primary tumors (e.g., BRAF, RAS, or gene fusions). Mutations in the TERT promoter (83%) and TP53 (71%) were highly prevalent. There were frequent alterations in PTEN, PIK3CA, and of members of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex, mismatch repair, cell-cycle checkpoint, and histone methyl- and acetyltransferase functional groups. Copy number alterations (CNA) were more prevalent in cell lines derived from advanced versus differentiated cancers, as reported in primary tumors, although the precise CNAs were only partially recapitulated. Transcriptomic analysis showed that all cell lines were profoundly dedifferentiated, regardless of their derivation, making them good models for advanced disease. However, they maintained the BRAFV600E versus RAS-dependent consequences on MAPK transcriptional output, which correlated with differential sensitivity to MEK inhibitors. Paired primary tumor-cell line samples showed high concordance of mutations. Complete loss of p53 function in TP53 heterozygous tumors was the most prominent event selected during in vitro immortalization.

Conclusions: This cell line resource will help inform future preclinical studies exploring tumor-specific dependencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics*
  • Telomerase / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / classification
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics*
  • Validation Studies as Topic


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase