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Int J Cancer. 2001 Apr 15;92(2):276-84.

Overexpression of p16(INK4A) as a specific marker for dysplastic and neoplastic epithelial cells of the cervix uteri.

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Division of Molecular Diagnostics and Therapy, Department of Surgery, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 110, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Cytological screening for cervical cancer or its precursors using Papanicolaou's smear test (Pap test) has been highly efficient to reduce the morbidity and mortality of cervical cancer. However, evaluation of the Pap test relies on subjective diagnostic parameters and is affected by a high rate of false-positive and false-negative results. More objective diagnostic parameters to identify truly dysplastic or neoplastic cells in cervical smears as well as in cervical biopsy samples would therefore avoid insecurity for many patients and the high screening costs associated with repeated testing. Cervical dysplasia is induced by persistent infections through high-risk types of human papillomaviruses (HPVs). Outgrowth of dysplastic lesions is triggered by increasing expression of two viral oncogenes, E6 and E7, which both interact with various cell cycle-regulating proteins. Among these is the retinoblastoma gene product pRB, which is inactivated by E7. pRB inhibits transcription of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor gene p16(INK4a). Increasing expression of the viral oncogenes in dysplastic cervical cells might thus be reflected by increased expression of p16(INK4a). In line with this hypothesis, we observed marked overexpression of p16(INK4a) in all cervical intraepithelial neoplasm (CIN) I lesions (n = 47) except those associated with low-risk HPV types (n = 7), all CIN II lesions (n = 32), all CIN III lesions (n = 60) and 58 of 60 invasive cervical cancers. In contrast, no detectable expression of p16(INK4a) was observed in normal cervical epithelium (n = 42), inflammatory lesions (n = 48) and low-grade cervical lesions (CIN I) associated with low-risk HPV types (n = 7). Dysplastic cells could also be identified in cervical smears using a specific p16(INK4a) monoclonal antibody. These data demonstrate that p16(INK4a) is a specific biomarker to identify dysplastic cervical epithelia in sections of cervical biopsy samples or cervical smears.

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