Background. Papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) is the commonest thyroid malignancy originating from the follicle cells in the thyroid. Despite a good overall prognosis, certain high-risk cases as in those with lymph node metastasis (LNM) have progressive disease and poorer prognosis. MicroRNAs are a class of non-protein-coding, 19-24 nucleotides single-stranded RNAs which regulate gene expression and these molecules have been shown to play a role in LNM. The integrated analysis of miRNAs and gene expression profiles together with transcription factors (TFs) has been shown to improve the identification of functional miRNA-target gene-TF relationships, providing a more complete view of molecular events underlying metastasis process. Objectives. We reanalyzed The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) datasets on PTC to identify differentially expressed miRNAs/genes in PTC patients with LNM-positive (LNM-P) versus lymph node negative (LNN) PTC patients and to investigate the miRNA-gene-TF regulatory circuit that regulate LNM in PTC. Results. PTC patients with LNM (PTC LNM-P) have a significantly shorter disease-free survival rate compared to PTC patients without LNM (PTC LNN) (Log-rank Mantel Cox test, p = 0.0049). We identified 181 significantly differentially expressed miRNAs in PTC LNM-P versus PTC LNN; 110 were upregulated and 71 were downregulated. The five topmost deregulated miRNAs were hsa-miR-146b, hsa-miR-375, hsa-miR-31, hsa-miR-7-2 and hsa-miR-204. In addition, 395 miRNAs were differentially expressed between PTC LNM-P and normal thyroid while 400 miRNAs were differentially expressed between PTC LNN and normal thyroid. We found four significant enrichment pathways potentially involved in metastasis to the lymph nodes, namely oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos), cell adhesion molecules (CAMs), leukocyte transendothelial migration and cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction. OxPhos was the most significantly perturbed pathway (p = 4.70E-06) involving downregulation of 90 OxPhos-related genes. Significant interaction of hsa-miR-301b with HLF, HIF and REL/NFkB transcription factors were identified exclusively in PTC LNM-P versus PTC LNN. Conclusion. We found evidence of five miRNAs differentially expressed in PTC LNM-P. Alteration in OxPhos pathway could be the central event in metastasis to the lymph node in PTC. We postulate that hsa-miR-301b might be involved in regulating LNM in PTC via interactions with HLF, HIF and REL/NFkB. To the best of our knowledge, the roles of these TFs have been studied in PTC but the precise role of this miRNA with these TFs in LNM in PTC has not been investigated.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.