Staging of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma using the MET oncogene product as marker of tumor cells in lymph node metastases

Giorgio Cortesina, Tiziana Martone, Emanuela Galeazzi, Martina Olivero, Antonella De Stefani, Mario Bussi, Guido Valente, Paolo M. Comoglio, M. Flavia Di Renzo

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In head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC), metastasis to cervical lymph nodes is a major determinant of patient outcome. To detect metastases, we used the MET oncogene as marker, which encodes the receptor for hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor, mediating epithelial cell motility and invasiveness. The MET gene is expressed in epithelia and over- expressed in carcinoma of specific histotypes, but not in lymphatic tissue. A total of 151 lymph nodes from 20 squamous cell carcinomas were studied with both in-depth histology and end-point and real-time quantitative RT-PCR. MET- encoded sequences were found in 61 of 151 nodes (40%), of which 24 (16%) were found metastatic by in-depth histopathology. Parallel routine histopathologic analysis of 654 lymph nodes from the same cases identified 36 metastases (5%). Real-time quantitative RT-PCR was used to measure MET gene-specific mRNA in normal tissues, primary tumors and lymphatic metastases and showed a 2-8-fold increased expression in tumor cells which metastasize. RT-PCR for 3 cytokeratins expressed in HNSCC (K4, K10 and K13) proved to be less sensitive in detecting occult lymphatic metastases. Western blot analysis demonstrated the presence of the full-size MET receptor in primary tumors and lymph node metastases: immunohistochemistry showed receptor localization in tumor cells. Altogether, these data demonstrate that the MET gene product is a valuable marker with which to detect occult tumor cell in lymph nodes, thanks to its high expression in metastatic cells. After RT-PCR analysis we were able to attribute a more advanced stage to 10 out of 20 HNSCC cases, including 5 cases classified as tumor-free after routine histopathology. (C) 2000 Wiley- Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-292
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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