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Mod Pathol. 2006 Oct;19(10):1369-77. Epub 2006 Jul 7.

Expression profile of Eph receptors and ephrin ligands in human skin and downregulation of EphA1 in nonmelanoma skin cancer.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.


Eph receptors and ephrin ligands represent the largest family of receptor tyrosine kinases. Beyond their well-defined meaning in developmental processes, these molecules also have important functions in adult human tissues and cancer. However, the Eph/ephrin expression profile in human skin is only marginally studied. We therefore investigated the mRNA expression of 21 Eph receptors and ephrin ligands in adult human skin in comparison to 13 other adult human tissues using quantitative real-time RT-PCR. In addition, immunohistochemistry was established for some members (EphA1, EphA2 and EphA7) to confirm the results of the RT-PCR and to identify the expressing cells in the skin. We found all investigated family members expressed in human skin, but at highly varying levels. EphA1, EphB3 and ephrin-A3 turned out to be most prominently expressed in skin compared to other adult human tissues. EphA1 was exclusively expressed in the epidermis. We therefore investigated the expression of EphA1 in nonmelanoma skin cancers derived from the epidermis (56 basal cell carcinomas and 32 squamous cell carcinomas). As demonstrated by immunohistochemistry, both skin cancers displayed a significant downregulation of EphA1 compared to the normal epidermis. In squamous cell carcinoma, the EphA1 downregulation was associated with increased tumor thickness, although this was not significant. Our results indicate that Eph receptors and ephrin ligands are widely expressed in the adult human skin, particularly in the epidermis, and may play an important role in skin homeostasis. EphA1 seems to be a marker of the differentiated normal epidermis and its downregulation in nonmelanoma skin cancer may contribute to carcinogenesis of these very frequent human tumors. EphA1 represents a new potential prognostic marker and therapeutic target in nonmelanoma skin cancer.

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