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Endocr Relat Cancer. 2006 Sep;13(3):797-826.

Enhancement of sodium/iodide symporter expression in thyroid and breast cancer.

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  • 1Molecular Endocrinology Laboratory, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90073, USA.


The sodium/iodide symporter (NIS) mediates iodide uptake in the thyroid gland and lactating breast. NIS mRNA and protein expression are detected in most thyroid cancer specimens, although functional iodide uptake is usually reduced resulting in the characteristic finding of a 'cold' or non-functioning lesion on a radioiodine image. Iodide uptake after thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) stimulation, however, is sufficient in most differentiated thyroid cancer to utilize beta-emitting radioactive iodide for the treatment of residual and metastatic disease. Elevated serum TSH, achieved by thyroid hormone withdrawal in athyreotic patients or after recombinant human thyrotropin administration, directly stimulates NIS gene expression and/or NIS trafficking to the plasma membrane, increasing radioiodide uptake. Approximately 10-20% differentiated thyroid cancers, however, do not express the NIS gene despite TSH stimulation. These tumors are generally associated with a poor prognosis. Reduced NIS gene expression in thyroid cancer is likely due in part, to impaired trans-activation at the proximal promoter and/or the upstream enhancer. Basal NIS gene expression is detected in about 80% breast cancer specimens, but the fraction with functional iodide transport is relatively low. Lactogenic hormones and various nuclear hormone receptor ligands increase iodide uptake in breast cancer cells in vitro, but TSH has no effect. A wide range of 'differentiation' agents have been utilized to stimulate NIS expression in thyroid and breast cancer using in vitro and in vivo models, and a few have been used in clinical studies. Retinoic acid has been used to stimulate NIS expression in both thyroid and breast cancer. There are similarities and differences in NIS gene regulation and expression in thyroid and breast cancer. The various agents used to enhance NIS expression in thyroid and breast cancer will be reviewed with a focus on the mechanism of action. Agents that promote tumor differentiation, or directly stimulate NIS gene expression, may result in iodine concentration in 'scan-negative' thyroid cancer and some breast cancer.

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