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Eur J Endocrinol. 2005 Dec;153(6):929-38.

Lithium stimulates proliferation in cultured thyrocytes by activating Wnt/beta-catenin signalling.

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Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Medical School Hannover, Carl Neuberg Strasse 1, D-30625 Hannover, Germany.



Lithium, clinically used in the treatment of bipolar disorders, is well known to induce thyroid growth. However, the mechanism involved is only incompletely characterized. Although it is conventionally believed that thyroid proliferation depends on the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)/cAMP/cAMP response element binding protein (CREB) pathway, recent data indicate that Wnt/beta-catenin signalling may be of critical importance. In other cell types lithium activates canonical Wnt signalling by GSK-3beta inhibition, which in turn stabilizes cytosolic free beta-catenin. Here we investigated the potential modulation of Wnt/beta-catenin signalling under lithium treatment in primary and neoplastic human thyrocytes.


Primary (S18) and neoplastic (NPA, FTC133) thyrocytes treated with and without LiCl were analysed using Western blotting, immunoprecipitation, reporter-gene assay, MTT proliferation assay and transfection studies.


LiCl dose-dependently inhibited GSK-3beta, stabilized free beta-catenin and inhibited beta-catenin degradation. Furthermore, LiCl altered the assembly of adherens junction by upregulating the E-cad-herin repressor, Snail, and downregulated E-cadherin expression. At a dose of 5 mM, LiCl significantly increased the proliferative potency of thyrocytes, which appeared to be mediated by beta-catenin, since nuclear beta-catenin stimulated T-cell factor/lymphoid enhancer factor (TCF/LEF)-mediated transcription and upregulated downstream targets like cyclin D1. To characterize the specificity of Wnt/beta-catenin-driven thyrocyte proliferation, we transfected primary thyrocytes and FTC133 cells with dominant negative TCF4 to block Wnt-dependent pathways or with dominant negative CREB to inhibit the TSH/cAMP cascade. In cells transfected with dominant negative CREB lithium-stimulated proliferation was unchanged whereas blocking Wnt/beta-catenin by dominant negative TCF4 reduced proliferation by approx. 50%.


Our data indicate that Wnt/beta-catenin signalling is of major importance in the control of lithium-dependent thyrocyte proliferation.

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