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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Sep;96(9):2692-702. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-1047. Epub 2011 Jul 21.

Clinical review: The emerging cell biology of thyroid stem cells.

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  • 1Thyroid Research Unit, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the James J Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, New York, New York 10468, USA.



Stem cells are undifferentiated cells with the property of self-renewal and give rise to highly specialized cells under appropriate local conditions. The use of stem cells in regenerative medicine holds great promise for the treatment of many diseases, including those of the thyroid gland.


This review focuses on the progress that has been made in thyroid stem cell research including an overview of cellular and molecular events (most of which were drawn from the period 1990-2011) and discusses the remaining problems encountered in their differentiation.


Protocols for the in vitro differentiation of embryonic stem cells, based on normal developmental processes, have generated thyroid-like cells but without full thyrocyte function. However, agents have been identified, including activin A, insulin, and IGF-I, which are able to stimulate the generation of thyroid-like cells in vitro. In addition, thyroid stem/progenitor cells have been identified within the normal thyroid gland and within thyroid cancers.


Advances in thyroid stem cell biology are providing not only insight into thyroid development but may offer therapeutic potential in thyroid cancer and future thyroid cell replacement therapy.

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