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J Endocrinol. 2013 Jun 1;218(1):125-33. doi: 10.1530/JOE-13-0029. Print 2013 Jul.

Oestrogen action on thyroid progenitor cells: relevant for the pathogenesis of thyroid nodules?

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  • 1Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine, St Hedwig Hospital, Berlin, Germany.


Benign and malignant thyroid nodules are more prevalent in females than in males. Experimental data suggest that the proliferative effect of oestrogen rather than polymorphisms is responsible for this gender difference. This study analysed whether both differentiated thyroid cells and thyroid stem and progenitor cells are targets of oestrogen action. In thyroid stem/progenitor cells derived from nodular goitres, the ability of 17β-oestradiol (E₂) to induce the formation of thyrospheres and the expression of oestrogen receptors (ERs) and the effect of E₂ on the growth and expression of markers of stem cells and thyroid differentiation (TSH receptor, thyroperoxidase, thyroglobulin and sodium iodide symporter (NIS)) were analysed. E₂ induced thyrosphere formation, albeit to a lower extent than other growth factors. Thyroid stem and progenitor cells expressed ERα (ESR1) and ERβ (ESR2) with eight times higher expression levels of ERα mRNA compared with the differentiated thyrocytes. E₂ was a potent stimulator of the growth of thyroid stem/progenitor cells. In contrast, TSH-induced differentiation of progenitor cells, in particular, the expression of NIS, was significantly inhibited by E₂. In conclusion, oestrogen stimulated the growth and simultaneously inhibited the differentiation of thyroid nodule-derived stem/progenitor cells. From these data and based on the concept of cellular heterogeneity, we hypothesize a supportive role of oestrogen in the propagation of thyroid stem/progenitor cells leading to the selection of a progeny of growth-prone cells with a decreased differentiation. These cells may be the origin of hypofunctioning or non-functioning thyroid nodules in females.


oestrogen; progenitor cells; thyroid nodules; thyroid stem cells

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