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Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Apr 1;11(7):2471-7.

beta-Catenin functions mainly as an adhesion molecule in patients with squamous cell cancer of the head and neck.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06514, USA.



beta-catenin, depending on subcellular localization, plays a dual role in carcinogenesis: as a signaling factor (in the nucleus) and as an adhesion molecule (in cell membrane). In this study, we sought to determine the role of beta-catenin in head and neck carcinogenesis.


First, we studied the incidence of mutations of beta-catenin in a cohort of 60 head and neck squamous cell cancers (HNSCC). We subsequently evaluated the protein expression levels of beta-catenin in a cohort of oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer tissue microarray using a novel in situ method of quantitative protein analysis and correlated those with cyclin D1 levels and clinical and pathologic data.


The mean follow-up time for survivors was 45 months and for all patients was 35 months. We found no mutations in the cohort of 60 HNSCC. beta-catenin displayed primarily membranous expression pattern. Patients with high tumor-node-metastasis stage were more likely to have high expression of beta-catenin (P = 0.040). Patients with low beta-catenin expression had a local recurrence rate of 79% compared with 29% for patients with high beta-catenin tumors (P = 0.0021). Univariate Cox regression revealed a hazard ratio for low beta-catenin tumors of 3.6 (P = 0.004). Kaplan-Meier analysis showed that patients with low beta-catenin expressing tumors trended toward worse 5-year disease-free survival (P = 0.06). In multivariate analysis, only beta-catenin expression status was an independent prognostic factor (P = 0.044) for local recurrence. Tumors with high beta-catenin had low cyclin D1 and vice versa (P = 0.007).


The absence of activating beta-catenin mutations combined with the inverse correlation between beta-catenin levels with cyclin D1 levels and outcome suggest that beta-catenin mainly functions as an adhesion and not signaling molecule in HNSCC.

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