Thyroid carcinoma is a common endocrine malignancy worldwide, accounting for approximately 1% of all diagnosed cancers and about 91.5% of the malignancies of head and neck. However, differentiating malignant thyroid nodules from benign ones remains a diagnostic challenge. Thus, novel molecular markers that enable non-invasive diagnostics for malignant thyroid nodules are urgently needed. In the present study, a metabonomic investigation based on liquid chromatography–LTQ Orbitrap mass spectrometry was employed for serum metabolic profiling of 30 cases of papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTC), 80 cases of nodular goiters (benign thyroid nodules) and 30 cases of healthy controls. According to the results of multivariate statistical data analysis, the significantly changed metabolites among these three groups were defined. It was found that most of these metabolites decreased in the sera of both malignant and benign thyroid cases due to the increased metabolic rate, which is in accordance with clinical features. The major metabolic differences between benign and malignant nodules occurred in lipid metabolism. Especially, the content of 3-hydroxybutyric acid, an intermediate product of fatty acid metabolism, was much higher in the PTC group than that in the nodule goiter and control groups, indicating its potential as a diagnostic marker for PTC and nodular goiters. These results show that the serum metabolic profiling method is a powerful tool for distinguishing thyroid carcinoma from nodular goiter and healthy controls.
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