Because some papillary thyroid cancers continue to grow when thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are suppressed, we questioned whether desensitization (i.e., a decreased cAMP response to repeat stimulation with TSH) occurs in normal and neoplastic thyroid tissue. If desensitization does occur, is it similar or different in these human thyroid cells? Normal and papillary thyroid cancer cells from the same patient were cultured as we have previously described. Normal and neoplastic thyroid tissues responded to TSH (0.01-10.0 mU/ml) by increasing cAMP production and growth in a dose-dependent manner. In normal cells there was an 11-fold mean increase in cAMP production at 4 hours, and all thyroid cultures responded. In neoplastic cells cAMP production increased from 1.5-fold to 3.0-fold with a mean 2.0-fold increase at 4 hours. In normal thyroid cells the cAMP response to a second TSH stimulus (desensitization) decreased up to 75% (range 25-75%), and desensitization occurred in all normal thyroid cell cultures. In neoplastic thyroid cells, however, the cAMP response to a second TSH stimulus decreased up to 17% (range 0-17%); and desensitization occurred in only two of the five neoplastic thyroid cell cultures. Thus when normal thyroid and neoplastic cells from the same patients were studied, greater desensitization occurred in the normal cells (75% vs. 17%). These studies document that there is greater desensitization in normal tissue than in neoplastic thyroid tissue, which may account for the increased growth of thyroid neoplasms in the presence of ever-changing low levels of TSH.
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