Discrimination of follicular cell-derived benign and malignant tumors of the thyroid is one of the major problems encountered in surgical pathology. In the present study, we evaluated the immunohistochemical expression of NGAL, an iron-binding protein involved in the infiltrative potential of cancer cells, in a cohort of tumors including 8 follicular adenomas (FA), 2 Hurthle cell adenomas (HA), 2 atypical adenomas (AA), 8 minimally invasive follicular carcinomas (MIFC), 9 widely invasive follicular carcinomas (WIFC), 3 Hurthle cell carcinomas (HC) and 8 papillary carcinomas (PC) with 5 follicular-variant PC (FVPC) and 3 not otherwise specified (PC-NOS). Our goal was to test whether evaluation of NGAL immunoexpression may be of use in the differential diagnosis of benign and malignant thyroid neoplasias. 92% of benign tumors (specificity) were negative for NGAL, whereby NGAL immuno-expression was found in 82% (sensitivity) of malignant tumors, and, specifically, in 100% of MIFC, in 87% of WIFC, in 100% of HC, in 80% of FVPC. None of the PC-NOS displayed NGAL staining. When only tumors with a follicular architecture were considered, NGAL specificity for malignant lesions was 92%; sensitivity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value were 92%, 96% and 85%. Diagnostic accuracy of NGAL expression in the differential diagnosis between benign and malignant follicular tumors was 92%. In conclusion, NGAL protein seems to represent a marker of malignant follicular cell-derived thyroid tumors, and especially of those with follicular architecture. Hence assessment of its expression might be of use with respect to differential diagnosis from follicular benign neoplasias.
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