The molecular biology of follicular cell growth in thyroid nodules is still poorly understood. Because gain-of-function (activating) mutations of the thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor (TShR) and/or Gsα genes may confer TSh-independent growth advantage to neoplastic thyroid cells, we searched for somatic mutations of these genes in a series of hyperfunctioning and nonfunctioning follicular thyroid adenomas specifically selected for their homogeneous gross anatomy (single nodule in an otherwise normal thyroid gland). TShR gene mutations were identified by direct sequencing of exons 9 and 10 of the TShR gene in genomic DNA obtained from surgical specimens. Codons 201 and 227 of the Gsα gene were also analyzed. At histology, all hyperfunctioning nodules and 13 of 15 nonfunctioning nodules were diagnosed as follicular adenomas. Two nonfunctioning thyroid nodules, although showing a prevalent microfollicular pattern of growth, had histological features indicating malignant transformation (a minimally invasive follicular carcinoma and a focal papillary carcinoma). Activating mutations of the TShR gene were found in 12 of 15 hyperfunctioning follicular thyroid adenomas. In one hyperfunctioning adenoma, which was negative for TShR mutations, a mutation in codon 227 of the Gsα gene was identified. At variance with hyperfunctioning thyroid adenomas, no mutation of the TShR or Gsα genes was detected in nonfunctioning thyroid nodules. In conclusion, our findings clearly define a different molecular pathogenetic mechanism in hyperfunctioning and nonfunctioning follicular thyroid adenomas. Activation of the cAMP cascade, which leads to proliferation but maintains differentiation of follicular thyroid cells, typically occurs in hyperfunctioning thyroid adenomas. Oncogenes other than the TShR and Gsα genes are probably involved in nonfunctioning follicular adenomas.
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