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Laryngoscope. 2012 Dec;122(12):2762-8. doi: 10.1002/lary.23647. Epub 2012 Oct 19.

Nuclear epidermal growth factor receptor and p16 expression in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and p16 (a surrogate marker of human papillomavirus [HPV] infection) expression are strong prognostic factors in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).


We examined expression levels of total and nuclear EGFR as well as p16 status based on evidence that nuclear EGFR may have a role in DNA damage repair.


An HPV-negative (SQ20B) and an HPV-positive (UMSCC47) HNSCC cell line were examined for EGFR and γH2AX expression. A tissue microarray containing 123 cores obtained from 101 HNSCC tumors was analyzed for EGFR expression by automated quantitative analysis and p16 expression by immunohistochemical staining, and these results were correlated with available clinical data.


SQ20B had higher EGFR expression than UMSCC47. Nuclear localization of EGFR on activation with transforming growth factor-α was observed in SQ20B, but not in UMSCC47. SQ20B also had increased γH2AX foci compared to UMSCC47, suggesting that SQ20B has more DNA damage compared to UMSCC47. Total and nuclear EGFR was reliably obtained from 80 of 101 patients. p16 levels were determined in 87 of 101 patients. p16 levels were strongly associated with the oropharyngeal subsite and poorly differentiated histology. Expression of total and nuclear EGFR was higher in p16-negative tumors compared to p16-positive tumors (Wilcoxon rank test, P = .038 and P = .014, respectively).


Further studies are required to determine a mechanistic link between these two prognostic factors and the significance of EGFR localization to nucleus in DNA damage repair pathway activation.

Copyright © 2012 The American Laryngological, Rhinological, and Otological Society, Inc.

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