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BMC Cancer. 2012 Sep 25;12:426. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-12-426.

Stress associated gene expression in blood cells is related to outcome in radiotherapy treated head and neck cancer patients.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo 0316, Norway.



We previously observed that a radiotherapy-induced biochemical response in plasma was associated with favourable outcome in head and neck squamous carcinoma cancer (HNSCC) patients. The aim of the present study was to compare stress associated blood cell gene expression between two sub-groups of HNSCC patients with different biochemical responses to radiotherapy.


Out of 87 patients (histologically verified), 10 biochemical 'responders' having a high relative increase in plasma oxidative damage and a concomitant decrease in plasma antioxidants during radiotherapy and 10 'poor-responders' were selected for gene-expression analysis and compared using gene set enrichment analysis.


There was a significant induction of stress-relevant gene-sets in the responders following radiotherapy compared to the poor-responders. The relevance of the involvement of similar stress associated gene expression for HNSCC cancer and radioresistance was verified using two publicly available data sets of 42 HNSCC cases and 14 controls (GEO GSE6791), and radiation resistant and radiation sensitive HNSCC xenografts (E-GEOD-9716).


Radiotherapy induces a systemic stress response, as revealed by induction of stress relevant gene expression in blood cells, which is associated to favourable outcome in a cohort of 87 HNSCC patients. Whether these changes in gene expression reflects a systemic effect or are biomarkers of the tumour micro-environmental status needs further study.


Raw data are available at ArrayExpress under accession number E-MEXP-2460.

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