Mining of self-organizing map gene-expression portraits reveals prognostic stratification of HPV-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

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Patients (pts) with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) have different epidemiologic, clinical, and outcome behaviors in relation to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection status, with HPV-positive patients having a 70% reduction in their risk of death. Little is known about the molecular heterogeneity in HPV-related cases. In the present study, we aim to disclose the molecular subtypes with potential biological and clinical relevance. Through a literature review, 11 studies were retrieved with a total of 346 gene-expression data points from HPV-positive HNSCC pts. Meta-analysis and self-organizing map (SOM) approaches were used to disclose relevant meta-gene portraits. Unsupervised consensus clustering provided evidence of three biological subtypes in HPV-positive HNSCC: Cl1, immune-related; Cl2, epithelial–mesenchymal transition-related; Cl3, proliferation-related. This stratification has a prognostic relevance, with Cl1 having the best outcome, Cl2 the worst, and Cl3 an intermediate survival rate. Compared to recent literature, which identified immune and keratinocyte subtypes in HPV-related HNSCC, we confirmed the former and we separated the latter into two clusters with different biological and prognostic characteristics. At present, this paper reports the largest meta-analysis of HPV-positive HNSCC studies and offers a promising molecular subtype classification. Upon further validation, this stratification could improve patient selection and pave the way for the development of a precision medicine therapeutic approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1057
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019



  • Head and neck cancer
  • HP
  • Molecular subtypes
  • Self-organizing map
  • Treatment de-escalation
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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