The c-MET oncogene encodes the receptor for hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF), which is known to stimulate the invasive growth of epithelial cells cultured in vitro. The Met/HGF receptor is a heterodimeric transmembrane tyrosine kinase, which is a prototype for a new family of growth factor receptors. The c-MET oncogene is expressed in several types of epithelial tissue including keratinocytes and is over-expressed in a number of human carcinomas. Studies on various carcinoma cell lines have shown that over-expression and structural alteration of the receptor result in its activation and confer tumorigenesis. We have studied Met/HGF receptor expression in tissue specimens from 34 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) and in 17 regional lymph node metastases. Western blot analysis was employed, using monoclonal antibodies directed against either the intracellular or extracellular domain of the receptor. Each sample was compared to its normal counterpart. The receptor did not show any major structural alterations in HNSCC tissues, but its expression was increased from 2- to 50-fold in about 70% of tumors. Immunohistochemistry then showed that the same antibodies stained only a few cells in the basal layer of normal squamous epithelium but intensely marked tumor cells. In the lymph node metastases of Met-positive tumors, receptor expression was maintained and sometimes increased with respect to primary tumors. Immunohistochemical analysis of the metastatic lymph nodes showed that cells were negative in the normal lymphatic tissue and strongly stained in tumor cells. Over-expression of the Met/HGF receptor was found at all tumor stages but was more significant in those associated with enlarged or multiple (N2-N3) lymph node metastases. These data show that expression of the Met/HGF receptor may be involved in the progression of HNSCC towards a metastatic phenotype and may be a useful marker of head and neck tumor cell spread to regional lymph nodes.
- Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
- Hepatocyte growth factor receptor
- Lymph node metastases
- MET oncogene
ASJC Scopus subject areas