Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine malignancy. Patients with well-differentiated thyroid cancers, such as papillary and follicular cancers, have a favorable prognosis. However, poorly differentiated thyroid cancers, such as medullary, squamous and anaplastic advanced thyroid cancers, are very aggressive and insensitive to radioiodine treatment. Thus, novel therapies that attenuate metastasis are urgently needed. We found that both PDGFC and PDGFRA are predominantly expressed in thyroid cancers and that the survival rate is significantly lower in patients with high PDGFRA expression. This finding indicates the important role of PDGF/PDGFR signaling in thyroid cancer development. Next, we established a SW579 squamous thyroid cancer cell line with 95.6% PDGFRA gene insertion and deletions (indels) through CRISPR/Cas9. Protein and invasion analysis showed a dramatic loss in EMT marker expression and metastatic ability. Furthermore, xenograft tumors derived from PDGFRA geneedited SW579 cells exhibited a minor decrease in tumor growth. However, distant lung metastasis was completely abolished upon PDGFRA gene editing, implying that PDGFRA could be an effective target to inhibit distant metastasis in advanced thyroid cancers. To translate this finding to the clinic, we used the most relevant multikinase inhibitor, imatinib, to inhibit PDGFRA signaling. The results showed that imatinib significantly suppressed cell growth, induced cell cycle arrest and cell death in SW579 cells. Our developed noninvasive apoptosis detection sensor (NIADS) indicated that imatinib induced cell apoptosis through caspase-3 activation. In conclusion, we believe that developing a specific and selective targeted therapy for PDGFRA would effectively suppress PDGFRA-mediated cancer aggressiveness in advanced thyroid cancers.
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