Background: Type I receptor for transferrin (TfR1/CD71) is overexpressed in several malignant tumors, but no studies are available on thyroid carcinomas. Our previous comparative analyses of the relative distribution of transferrin in benign versus papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) tissues highlighted a marked malignancy-associated abundance of the molecule. The aim of the present study was to evaluate whether TfR1/CD71 is also differentially expressed in benign versus malignant thyroid tissues. Methods: Tissue samples, including benign lesions and follicular-derived carcinomas, from 241 patients and a total of 35 benign and malignant fresh specimens were assayed for TfR1/CD71 expression by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, Western blot, and immunohistochemistry. Results: We found that transcription of TfR1/CD71 gene is constitutive in thyroid epithelia, but the mRNA is differently translated in benign and malignant tissues. Western blot revealed higher levels of TfR1/CD71 protein in malignant versus benign tissues. Immunohistochemically, most carcinomas exhibited overexpression of the receptor, predominantly in the cytoplasm of neoplastic cells. The highest expression level was detected in primary and metastatic papillary carcinomas and anaplastic carcinomas, with positive results ranging from 86% to 100% of the cases. In contrast, most benign tissues were negative, with only a minority of cases showing focal and weak immunoreactivity. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that altered expression of TfR1/CD71 may be used as a marker helpful in distinguishing PTC from papillary hyperplasia and follicular variant PTC from benign follicular-patterned lesions. Additionally, the present observations support the rationale for the use of radiolabeled transferrin/transferrin analogs and/or anti-TfR1/CD71 antibodies for diagnostic and/or radiotherapeutic purposes in TfR1/CD71-expressing thyroid tumors. Copyright © 2011, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
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