Three metabolites could help differentiate patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) from healthy individuals, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports. These are linoleic acid, linolenic acid, and leucine, and they can potentially be used as tumor biomarkers for the early detection of MTC.

The metabolites were identified through the metabolomics profiling of patients with MTC. The aim of the researchers was to explore how and which metabolic pathways are perturbed during tumorigenesis in the disease.

The team led by Mehdi Hedayati, PhD, from the Cellular and Molecular Endocrine Research Center, Research Institute for Endocrine Sciences at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, analyzed the plasma samples of 20 patients with MTC and 20 healthy volunteers and carried out untargeted metabolomics.

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They identified 76 structural features, among which they identified 13 metabolites that were differentially expressed between patients with MTC and healthy people.

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They reported that these metabolites were mostly associated with unsaturated fatty acid biosynthesis and the metabolism of amino acids including leucine, glutamine, and glutamate. These events are responsible for energy production in tumor cells.

Based on receiver operating characteristic curve analysis, the researchers concluded that linoleic acid, linolenic acid, and leucine could discriminate MTC. “This preliminary work contributes to existing knowledge of MTC metabolism by providing evidence of a distinctive metabolic profile in MTC patients relying on the metabolomics approach,” they wrote.

MTC is a rare type of cancer that arises from the parafollicular C cells of the thyroid gland. The diagnosis of MTC is complex and involves many steps. 

However, early diagnosis is paramount, as it can have a great impact on disease prognosis. Therefore, the identification of biomarkers that can help diagnose the disease in its early stages is of great importance.


Jajin MG, Abooshahab R, Hooshmand K, et al. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry-based untargeted metabolomics reveals metabolic perturbations in medullary thyroid carcinoma. Sci Rep. 2022;12:8397. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-12590-x