Investigations on Primary Cilia of Nthy-ori 3-1 Cells upon Cysteine Cathepsin Inhibition or Thyrotropin Stimulation

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 May 26;24(11):9292. doi: 10.3390/ijms24119292.


In the thyroid gland, cysteine cathepsins are secreted upon thyrotropin stimulation for thyroglobulin processing, and they are present at the primary cilia of thyroid epithelial cells. Treatment with protease inhibitors resulted in the loss of cilia from rodent thyrocytes and caused redistribution of the thyroid co-regulating G protein-coupled receptor Taar1 to the endoplasmic reticulum. These findings suggest that ciliary cysteine cathepsins are important to maintain sensory and signaling properties for the proper regulation and homeostasis of thyroid follicles. Therefore, it is important to better understand how cilia structure and frequencies are maintained in human thyroid epithelial cells. Hence, we aimed to investigate the potential role of cysteine cathepsins for the maintenance of primary cilia in the normal human Nthy-ori 3-1 thyroid cell line. This was approached by determining cilia lengths and frequencies in cysteine peptidase inhibition conditions in Nthy-ori 3-1 cell cultures. Cilia lengths were shortened upon 5 h of cysteine peptidase inhibition with cell-impermeable E64. Likewise, cilia lengths and frequencies were decreased upon additional overnight treatment with the cysteine peptidase-targeting, activity-based probe DCG-04. The results suggest that cysteine cathepsin activity is required for the maintenance of the cellular protrusions not only in rodents, but also in human thyrocytes. Hence, thyrotropin stimulation was used to simulate physiological conditions that eventually lead to cathepsin-mediated thyroglobulin proteolysis, which is initiated in the thyroid follicle lumen. Immunoblotting revealed that thyrotropin stimulation conditions result in the secretion of little procathepsin L and some pro- and mature cathepsin S but no cathepsin B from the human Nthy-ori 3-1 cells. Unexpectedly, however, 24 h incubation periods with thyrotropin shortened the cilia although higher amounts of cysteine cathepsins were present in the conditioned media. These data point to the necessity of further studies to delineate which of the cysteine cathepsins plays the most prominent role in cilia shortening and/or elongation. Collectively, the results of our study provide corroboration for the hypothesis of thyroid autoregulation by local mechanisms that our group previously proposed.

Keywords: E64; E64d; cysteine cathepsins; primary cilia; thyroid-stimulating hormone.

MeSH terms

  • Cilia / metabolism
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Thyroglobulin* / metabolism
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism
  • Thyrotropin* / metabolism
  • Thyrotropin* / pharmacology


  • Thyroglobulin
  • Thyrotropin
  • Cysteine