Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in thyroid cancer progression may provide targets for more effective treatment of aggressive thyroid cancers. Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a major pathologic mechanism in tumor progression and is linked to the acquisition of stem-like properties of cancer cells. We examined expression of ZEB1 which activates EMT by binding to the E-box elements in the E-cadherin promoter, and expression of E-cadherin in normal and neoplastic thyroid tissues in a tissue microarray which included 127 neoplasms and 10 normal thyroid specimens. Thyroid follicular adenomas (n = 32), follicular thyroid carcinomas (n = 28), and papillary thyroid carcinomas (n = 57) all expressed E-cadherin and were mostly negative for ZEB1 while most anaplastic thyroid carcinomas (ATC, n = 10) were negative for E-cadherin, but positive for ZEB1. A validation set of 10 whole sections of ATCs showed 90 % of cases positive for ZEB1 and all cases were negative for E-cadherin. Analysis of three cell lines (normal thyroid, NTHY-OR13-1; PTC, TPC-1, and ATC, THJ-21T) showed that the ATC cell line expressed the highest levels of ZEB1 while the normal thyroid cell line expressed the highest levels of E-Cadherin. Quantitative RT-PCR analyses showed that Smad7 mRNA was significantly higher in ATC than in any other group (p < 0.05). These results indicate that ATCs show evidence of EMT including decreased expression of E-cadherin and increased expression of ZEB1 compared to well-differentiated thyroid carcinomas and that increased expression of Smad7 may be associated with thyroid tumor progression. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.