Metabolic reprogramming has been regarded as an essential component of malignant transformation. However, the clinical significance of metabolic heterogeneity remains poorly characterized.The aim of this study was to characterize metabolic heterogeneity in thyroid cancers via the analysis of the expression of mitochondrial ribosomal proteins (MRPs) and genes involved in oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos), and investigate potential prognostic correlations.Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) verified by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and gene network analysis was performed using public repository data. Cross-sectional observational study was conducted to classify papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) by the expression of MRP L44 (MRPL44) messenger RNA (mRNA), and to investigate the clinicopathological features.GSEA clearly showed that the expression of OxPhos and MRP gene sets was significantly lower in primary thyroid cancer than in matched normal thyroid tissue. However, 8 of 49 primary thyroid tumors (16.3%) in the public repository did not show a reduction in OxPhos mRNA expression. Remarkably, strong positive correlations between MRPL44 expression and those of OxPhos and MRPs such as reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide dehydrogenase (ubiquinone) 1 α subcomplex, 5; succinate dehydrogenase complex, subunit D; cytochrome c, somatic; adenosine triphosphate synthase, H+ transporting, mitochondrial Fo complex, subunit C1 (subunit 9); and MRP S5 (MRPS5) (P<0.0001) were clearly denoted, suggesting that MRPL44 is a representative marker of OxPhos and MRP expressions. In laboratory experiments, metabolic heterogeneity in oxygen consumption, extracellular acidification rates (ECARs), and amounts of OxPhos complexes were consistently observed in BCPAP, TPC1, HTH-7, and XTC.UC1 cell lines. In PTCs, metabolic phenotype according to OxPhos amount defined by expression of MRPL44 mRNA was significantly related to lymph node metastasis (LNM) (P<0.001). Furthermore, multivariate analysis clearly indicated that expression of MRPL44 is associated with an increased risk of lateral neck LNM (odds ratio 9.267, 95% confidence interval 1.852-46.371, P=0.007).MRPL44 expression may be a representative marker of metabolic phenotype according to OxPhos amount and a useful predictor of LNM.
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