OBJECTIVE: The chromosomal regions containing the two putative tumour suppressors, fragile histidine triad gene (FHIT) and tumour suppressor gene 101 (TSG101), are deleted frequently in thyroid tumours. We therefore analysed FHIT and TSG101 transcripts in a group of advanced thyroid tumours to establish their role in thyroid tumorigenesis. DESIGN: Retrospective analysis of FHIT and TSG101 mRNA transcripts and genomic DNA from cryo- preserved thyroid tumours. TP53, previously shown at the genomic level not to be mutated in this cohort of tumours, served as a control. PATIENTS: We analysed nine follicular thyroid carcinomas (FTC), six papillary thyroid carcinomas and six follicular adenomas (FA) and histologically normal thyroid tissue from four of the FA patients. MEASUREMENTS: Single stage and nested reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) products of FHIT, TSG101, and TP53 were analysed by agarose or polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and sequenced. Genomic DNA was also analysed by polymerase chain reaction and sequencing (FHIT) or by Southern blotting (TSG101). Clinical data were correlated with the results of the mutation analysis. RESULTS: Truncated FHIT transcripts were observed frequently alongside full length transcripts with nested RT-PCR, most often in FTC, while single stage RT-PCR revealed only normal length transcripts in all tumours. Similar results were obtained for TP53, while abnormal TSG101 transcripts were detectable by single stage RT-PCR. Sequence analysis of the truncated FHIT and TSG101 transcripts revealed mainly exon skipping and alternate RNA processing events. Only a single point mutation (of TSG101) was found. Southern blotting for the TSG101 gene, and PCR amplification and sequencing of the FHIT gene showed no evidence of genomic abnormalities in either case, and there was no evidence of splice site mutations in the FHIT gene, suggesting that the truncated transcripts result from altered RNA processing. There was no relationship between tumour stage, grade or survival and the presence of FHIT or TSG101 abnormalities. CONCLUSIONS: Truncated FHIT and TSG101 transcripts in thyroid tumours reflect alternate mRNA splicing events, rather than genomic deletions. Such abnormal RNA processing seems to be common and widespread in thyroid neoplasms, as similar results were obtained by analysis of transcripts of TP53, which we had previously shown not to be mutated in these specimens. Although a pathogenetic role for these aberrant transcripts remains possible, no correlation was found with stage, histological grade or outcome in this small group of advanced thyroid malignancies. Relaxation of mRNA splice control appears to be a feature of follicular cell-derived thyroid neoplasms.
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