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β-Catenin expression in thyroid follicular lesions: Potential role in nuclear envelope changes in papillary carcinomas


The morphologic distinction of benign and malignant thyroid follicular lesions can sometimes be challenging, therefore an immunohistochemical marker to aid in this distinction would be useful. beta-Catenin is one such potential marker. It is part of a membrane-bound cell growth-signaling complex that plays a role in cell adhesion, as well as in promotion of growth through activation of the Wnt signaling pathway. Oncogenic signaling occurs when beta-catenin is released, accumulates in the cytoplasm, translocates into the nucleus, and promotes transcription of genes including bcl-1 (cyclin D1) and c-myc that induce cell proliferation. Paraffin blocks from 133 thyroidectomy specimens were stained with monoclonal antibodies reactive with beta-catenin and cyclin D1. These included 53 cases of papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC), 46 cases of follicular variant of papillary carcinoma (FVPC), 10 cases of follicular carcinoma (FC), and 24 cases of follicular adenoma (FA). Tissue from six normal thyroid specimens served as a control. The malignant lesions (PTC, FC, and FVPC) expressed strong cytoplasmic/nuclear staining and minimal residual membranous staining in 87%, 80%, and 71% of cases, respectively. In contrast, all normal thyroid tissue and 79% of FAs showed strong membranous reactivity with very minimal cytoplasmic staining. Interestingly, in 83% of PTC cases and 20% FVPCs, the intranuclear inclusions were distinctly beta-catenin positive. Cyclin D1 over expression correlated with cytoplasmic relocalization of beta-catenin in almost all cases, and no evidence of cyclin D1 gene amplification was observed. beta-Catenin can be of a diagnostic utility for thyroid lesions, because it highlights intranuclear inclusions in PTC, and shifts from a membranous localization to a cytoplasmic localization in malignant lesions. We speculate that the localization of beta-catenin in intranuclear inclusions may reflect a cytoskeletal remodeling activity of beta-catenin that is functionally significant for the PTC pathway.

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