The presented study was aimed to investigate new mechanisms of carcinogenesis in thyroids at the molecular level and to find potential protein markers involved in the initiation of the different histological subtypes of thyroid carcinoma. For this, we performed differential proteome analysis on primary cultured thyrocytes and transformed thyrocytes derived from 238Pu alpha-particle irradiation using two-dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE) and peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF) with matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation-time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS). Proteome analysis identified a strong upregulation of maspin, a serine protease inhibitor and class II tumor suppressor, in irradiated thyrocytes. To clarify the role of maspin in thyroid carcinogenesis, we searched for mRNA/protein expression in 30 normal (tumor-free) thyroid tissues, 35 follicular adenomas, 68 papillary carcinomas, 38 follicular carcinomas, 25 poorly differentiated carcinomas, and 34 undifferentiated carcinomas and compared the results with maspin promoter methylation status, p53 expression, clinicopathological data and prognosis. Maspin expression was detectable in 48 of 68 papillary carcinomas exclusively. There was a low methylation rate of 28% in papillary carcinomas in contrast to the other tissues (89-100%). p53 was positive in 2% of maspin positive cases, and in 80% of maspin negative cases. After 110 month follow-up 83% of the maspin positive patients had recurrence-free disease, whereas only 40% of the maspine negative patients were recurrence-free. Our data suggest: (1) maspin expression is a special feature of papillary thyroid carcinomas, (2) promotor methylation-caused maspin repression plays a major role in gene balance and in the process of tumor determination, (3) maspin protein possibly functions as a clinically relevant inhibitor of tumor progression, (4) our data delivers the hints for a p53-depentent regulatory pathway of the maspin protein in human cancer.
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