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Cancer. 2002 Nov 1;95(9):1902-10.

Expression of matrix metalloproteinase 1, matrix metalloproteinase 2, and matrix metalloproteinase 9 in carcinoma of the head and neck.

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Department of Human Pathology and Oncology, University of Florence, Italy.



Numerous reports have documented a direct involvement of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) overexpression in the development and progression of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). In this study, the authors examined whether the expression of MMPs in HNSCC is correlated with other steps involved in tumor growth and metastasis, like angiogenesis, activation the nitric oxide (NO) pathway, and alteration of the p53 tumor suppressor gene.


MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-9 expression levels were examined immunohistochemically in samples from 43 patients with HNSCC. Microvessel density (MVD) was determined by immunostaining of endothelial cells with anti-CD31 monoclonal antibody. Inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) activity and cyclic guanosine monophosphatate (cGMP) levels were assessed in fresh tumor samples, whereas exons 5-9 of the p53 gene were analyzed by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis and were sequenced.


MMP-1 overexpression (>10% of tumor cells) was identified in 32 tumors (74.5%), whereas elevated levels of MMP-2 and MMP-9 were detected in 17 tumors (39.5%) each. Tumors with MMP-9 overexpression were characterized by significantly higher MVD (P = 0.05) and significantly higher iNOS activity and cGMP levels (P = 0.005 and P = 0.02, respectively). Moreover, p53 mutation was associated strongly with MMP-9 overexpression (P = 0.004). Conversely, no correlation was found between MMP-1 and MMP-2 expression, angiogenesis, iNOS activity, cGMP levels, and p53 mutation in this series.


This study documents the existence of a correlation between MMP-9 expression, activity of the iNOS pathway, p53 status, and angiogenesis in patients with HNSCC. This raises the possibility that p53 mutation, which frequently is present in HNSCC, may result in increased angiogenesis and invasiveness related to increased nitric oxide and MMP production by tumor cells, ultimately contributing to tumor progression.

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