Background The BRAF V600E (BRAF+) mutation activates the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK/ERK) pathway and may confer an aggressive phenotype in papillary thyroid cancer (PTC). Clinically, the behavior of BRAF+ PTC, however, varies from an indolent to an aggressive course. SPRY2 is a negative feedback regulator of the MAPK/ERK pathway. We hypothesize that the level of SPRY2 expression contributes to MAPK/ERK pathway output and accounts for BRAF+ and clinical heterogeneity. Methods A tissue microarray with BRAF-positive PTCs (BRAF+ PTCs) was constructed and analyzed for SPRY2 expression and MAPK/ERK output. Data were studied in the context of clinicopathologic factors to develop a risk stratification system predictive of tumor biology. SPRY2 function was studied by silencing SPRY2 in BRAF+ PTC cells. These cells were treated with MAPK/ERK pathway inhibitors and assessed for growth effects. Results BRAF+ PTCs with an intact MAPK/ERK feedback pathway do not exhibit lymph node metastases. BRAF+ PTCs with dysregulated feedback pathways have nodal metastasis. When SPRY2 is silenced, the BRAF+ PTC cells are significantly more sensitive to MAPK/ERK inhibition. Conclusion PTC behavior likely is dependent on both the driver of the MAPK/ERK pathway and its regulatory feedback. When the feedback pathway is intact, the tumor phenotype seems to be less aggressive. This observation has direct and important clinical implications and may alter our treatment strategies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas