NYMC Faculty Publications

Inflammatory Components of the Thyroid Cancer Microenvironment: An Avenue for Identification of Novel Biomarkers

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Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology

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Second Department

Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology


The incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States is on the rise with an appreciably high disease recurrence rate of 20-30%. Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC), although rare in occurrence, is an aggressive form of cancer with limited treatment options and bleak cure rates. This chapter uses discussions of in vitro models that are representative of papillary, anaplastic, and follicular thyroid cancer to evaluate the crosstalk between specific cells of the tumor microenvironment (TME), which serves as a highly heterogeneous realm of signaling cascades and metabolism that are associated with tumorigenesis. The cellular constituents of the TME carry out varying characteristic immunomodulatory functions that are discussed throughout this chapter. The aforementioned cell types include cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), endothelial cells (ECs), and cancer stem cells (CSCs), as well as specific immune cells, including natural killer (NK) cells, dendritic cells (DCs), mast cells, T regulatory (Treg) cells, CD8+ T cells, and tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). TAM-mediated inflammation is associated with a poor prognosis of thyroid cancer, and the molecular basis of the cellular crosstalk between macrophages and thyroid cancer cells with respect to inducing a metastatic phenotype is not yet known. The dynamic nature of the physiological transition to pathological metastatic phenotypes when establishing the TME encompasses a wide range of characteristics that are further explored within this chapter, including the roles of somatic mutations and epigenetic alterations that drive the genetic heterogeneity of cancer cells, allowing for selective advantages that aid in their proliferation. Induction of these proliferating cells is typically accomplished through inflammatory induction, whereby chronic inflammation sets up a constant physiological state of inflammatory cell recruitment. The secretions of these inflammatory cells can alter the genetic makeup of proliferating cells, which can in turn, promote tumor growth.This chapter also presents an in-depth analysis of molecular interactions within the TME, including secretory cytokines and exosomes. Since the exosomal cargo of a cell is a reflection and fingerprint of the originating parental cells, the profiling of exosomal miRNA derived from thyroid cancer cells and macrophages in the TME may serve as an important step in biomarker discovery. Identification of a distinct set of tumor suppressive miRNAs downregulated in ATC-secreted exosomes indicates their role in the regulation of tumor suppressive genes that may increase the metastatic propensity of ATC. Additionally, the high expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines in studies looking at thyroid cancer and activated macrophage conditioned media suggests the existence of an inflammatory TME in thyroid cancer. New findings are suggestive of the presence of a metastatic niche in ATC tissues that is influenced by thyroid tumor microenvironment secretome-induced epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), mediated by a reciprocal interaction between the pro-inflammatory M1 macrophages and the thyroid cancer cells. Thus, targeting the metastatic thyroid carcinoma microenvironment could offer potential therapeutic benefits and should be explored further in preclinical and translational models of human metastatic thyroid cancer.