Midkine concentrations in fine-needle aspiration of benign and malignant thyroid nodules

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The primary preoperative method for distinguishing malignant from benign thyroid nodules is fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytology, but it is frequently inconclusive. Midkine (MDK) is a heparin-binding growth factor, which is overexpressed in papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC).


We measured MDK concentrations in FNA samples from benign and malignant thyroid nodules to explore the possibility that MDK measurement might aid in the evaluation of thyroid nodules.


35 subjects underwent preoperative FNA of 45 thyroid nodules, followed by thyroidectomy, providing a histological diagnosis. FNA needle contents were first expressed for cytology, and then, the needle was washed with buffer for immunoassay. In 46 subjects without preoperative FNA samples, FNA was performed ex vivo on 62 nodules within surgically excised thyroid tissue.


MDK was measured using a high-sensitivity sandwich ELISA and normalized to thyroglobulin (Tg) concentration in the sample to adjust for tissue content in the aspirate.


The MDK/Tg ratio was higher in 18 PTCs than in 87 benign nodules (204 ± 106 vs 1·2 ± 0·3 ng/mg, mean ± SEM, P < 0·001). Using a threshold of 10 ng/mg, the sensitivity and specificity of the MDK/Tg ratio for diagnosis of PTC were 67% and 99%, respectively. All follicular variant PTCs had a MDK/Tg ratio <10 ng/mg.


The findings indicate that, in FNA samples, the MDK/Tg ratio in PTC is greater than in benign thyroid nodules, raising the possibility that this approach might provide adjunctive diagnostic or prognostic information to complement existing approaches.

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