Pembrolizumab-induced thyroiditis: Comprehensive clinical review and insights into underlying involved mechanisms

Danae A. Delivanis, Michael P. Gustafson, Svetlana Bornschlegl, Michele M. Merten, Lisa Kottschade, Sarah Withers, Allan B. Dietz, Mabel Ryder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Context: Thyroid immune-related adverse events (irAEs) in patients treated with programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) blockade are increasingly recognized as one of the most common adverse effects. Our aim was to determine the incidence and examine the potential mechanisms of anti-PD- 1-induced thyroid irAEs. Design: Single-center, retrospective cohort study. Patients and Measurements:Westudied 93 patients with advanced cancer (ages 24 to 82 years; 60% males) who received at least one infusion of pembrolizumab. Thyroid test results and thyroid imaging modalities were reviewed. Comprehensive 10-color flow cytometry of peripheral blood was performed. Results: Thirteen (14%) thyroid irAEs were observed. Thyroiditis occurred in seven patients (54%), from which four recovered. New onset of hypothyroidism overt/subclinical developed in three patients. Levothyroxine dosing required doubling in three patients with a known history of hypothyroidism. Thyroperoxidase antibodies were positive in the minority of the patients [4/13 (31%)] and diffuse increased 18fludeoxyglucose uptake of the thyroid gland was observed in the majority [7/11 (64%)] of patients. We observed more circulating CD56+CD16+ natural killer (NK) cells and an elevated HLA-DR surface expression in the inflammatory intermediate CD14+CD16+ monocytes in anti-PD-1-treated patients. Conclusions: Thyroid dysfunction is common in cancer patients treated with pembrolizumab. Reversible destructive thyroiditis and overt hypothyroidism are the most common clinical presentations. The mechanism of thyroid destruction appears independent of thyroid autoantibodies and may include T cell, NK cell, and/or monocyte-mediated pathways. Because the thyroid is a frequent target of anti-PD-1 therapies, patients with therapeutically refractory thyroid cancer may be ideal candidates for this treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2770-2780
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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