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Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Feb 15;13(4):1161-70.

Genetic alterations and their relationship in the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt pathway in thyroid cancer.

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Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21287, USA.



To investigate the overall occurrence and relationship of genetic alterations in the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway in thyroid tumors and explore the scope of this pathway as a therapeutic target for thyroid cancer.


We examined collectively the major genetic alterations and their relationship in this pathway, including PIK3CA copy number gain and mutation, Ras mutation, and PTEN mutation, in a large series of primary thyroid tumors.


Occurrence of any of these genetic alterations was found in 25 of 81 (31%) benign thyroid adenoma (BTA), 47 of 86 (55%) follicular thyroid cancer (FTC), 21 of 86 (24%) papillary thyroid cancer (PTC), and 29 of 50 (58%) anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC), with FTC and ATC most frequently harboring these genetic alterations. PIK3CA copy gain was associated with increased PIK3CA protein expression. A mutual exclusivity among these genetic alterations was seen in BTA, FTC, and PTC, suggesting an independent role of each of them through the PI3K/Akt pathway in the tumorigenesis of the differentiated thyroid tumors. However, coexistence of these genetic alterations was increasingly seen with progression from differentiated tumor to undifferentiated ATC. Their coexistence with BRAF mutation was also frequent in PTC and ATC.


The data provide strong genetic implication that aberrant activation of PI3K/Akt pathway plays an extensive role in thyroid tumorigenesis, particularly in FTC and ATC, and promotes progression of BTA to FTC and to ATC as the genetic alterations of this pathway accumulate. Progression of PTC to ATC may be facilitated by coexistence of PI3K/Akt pathway-related genetic alterations and BRAF mutation. The PI3K/Akt pathway may thus be a major therapeutic target in thyroid cancers.

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