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Cancer Res. 1991 Aug 1;51(15):3972-81.

Abnormal expression of retinoic acid receptors and keratin 19 by human oral and epidermal squamous cell carcinoma cell lines.

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Department of Biological Chemistry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


We have analyzed the expression of the three retinoic acid receptor (RAR) (alpha, beta, gamma) mRNAs and the intermediate filament protein keratin 19 (K19) mRNA in cell lines cultured from oral and epidermal human squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and from benign, hyperplastic, and hyperkeratotic (leukoplakia) lesions arising in various regions of the oral cavity. Seven of the SCC lines were derived from tumors arising in regions of the oral cavity in which the normal epithelial cells (keratinocytes) express RAR beta transcripts. Seven of the nine SCC lines tested did not exhibit detectable RAR beta mRNA levels, even in response to addition of retinoic acid (RA). The RAR beta gene did not appear to be rearranged or deleted in the five nonexpressing SCC lines examined by Southern analysis. The steady-state RAR gamma mRNA levels were 2- to 4-fold lower in 6 of the 9 SCC lines than in their normal counterparts, whereas the RAR alpha message levels in SCC lines were similar to those of the normal cell strains. The expression of keratin 19 message, which is RA inducible in normal keratinocytes, was also abnormal in many of the SCC cell lines. Some SCC lines, e.g., those derived form tumors of the soft palate epithelium, did not express high levels of K19 message even though normal soft palate keratinocytes expressed high levels of K19 mRNA. Two of the nine SCC lines expressed higher than normal levels of K19 mRNA, and this expression was RA independent. Cells cultured from four oral leukoplakia lesions were also examined and found to express RAR beta mRNA at relatively normal levels, but they expressed RAR gamma message at half the level of epithelial cells cultured from normal tissue. These results show that the correlation between RAR beta gene expression and K19 gene expression that we have observed in the various normal keratinocyte subtypes of the oral cavity (D.L. Crowe et al., manuscript in preparation) is not present in transformed keratinocytes (SCC cells). The lack of apparent RA regulation of the K19 gene in SCC lines may be associated with other aberrations in differentiation which have been identified in SCC cells. Abnormally low expression of the RAR beta receptor may contribute to neoplastic progression in stratified squamous epithelia. It may also determine whether a tumor is responsive to RA as a chemotherapeutic agent.

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