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Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Aug 15;15(16):5101-7. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-08-3286. Epub 2009 Aug 11.

Elevated cutaneous Smad activation associates with enhanced skin tumor susceptibility in organ transplant recipients.

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  • 1UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.



Nonmelanoma skin cancer incidence is enhanced >50-fold in patients taking antirejection drugs (ARD) following organ transplantation. Preclinical studies suggest that ARD treatment increases transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) levels, which contribute to enhanced tumor susceptibility independent of the immunosuppressive effects of ARDs. This study investigates whether TGF-beta signaling is elevated in transplant patients.


Immunohistochemical tissue microarray analysis was used to determine the levels of TGF-beta1, TGF-beta2, TGF-beta3, TbetaRII, and activated P-Smad2/3 and P-Smad1/5/8, which are phosphorylated directly by distinct TGF-beta/BMP receptor complexes. We analyzed >200 cutaneous lesions and adjacent nonlesional skin samples from 87 organ transplant recipients, and 184 cutaneous lesions and adjacent skin samples from 184 individuals who had never received ARDs.


We found significantly higher levels of P-Smad2 in both nonlesional and lesional tissue from transplant recipients compared with those not exposed to ARDs (P < or = 0.001). In contrast, P-Smad1/5/8, a marker of activation of the bone morphogenetic protein signaling pathway, was generally not expressed at higher levels in patients taking ARDs, including analysis of nonlesional skin, actinic keratoses, carcinoma in situ, or squamous cell carcinoma but was differentially expressed between keratoacanthoma from transplant recipients compared with those from non-transplant recipients (P < or = 0.005).


Observation of elevated P-Smad2 levels in transplant recipients is consistent with the notion that elevated TGF-beta signaling may contribute to malignancy in organ transplant recipients. Disparate P-Smad1/5/8 expression levels between keratoacanthoma from the two patient groups might reflect the distinct BMP-responsive cell of origin for this hair follicle-derived lesion.

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