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J Innate Immun. 2011;3(6):631-8. doi: 10.1159/000329115. Epub 2011 Aug 29.

Toll-like receptor 9 is a novel biomarker for esophageal squamous cell dysplasia and squamous cell carcinoma progression.

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Department of Surgery, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland.



Stimulation of Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) has been linked to invasion in various cancer cells in vitro. We investigated TLR9 expression in normal, dysplastic and malignant esophageal squamous epithelium.


TLR9 expression was analyzed by immunohistochemistry in 46 cases of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, including 12 cases with adjacent squamous dysplasia and 24 cases with normal esophageal epithelium. TLR9 expression was compared with tumor grade, stage, proliferation, apoptosis and vascular density.


In normal esophageal squamous epithelium, TLR9 staining intensity decreased linearly from the basal layers to the superficial layers (p < 0.001). Strong TLR9 expression was detected across full thickness of high-grade dysplasia, the intensity clearly differing from the normal squamous epithelium and squamous cell carcinoma (p < 0.001). All squamous cell carcinomas exhibited TLR9 expression that was positively associated with a high grade (p < 0.05), the presence of lymph node metastases (p < 0.05) and previously undetected distant metastases (p < 0.05).


Expression of TLR9 in the basal parts of normal esophageal epithelium suggests a role related to cell proliferation and differentation. TLR9 upregulation detected in dysplastic epithelium and in disseminated carcinomas indicates that this protein may serve as a novel marker for esophageal squamous dysplasia and carcinoma with metastatic potential.

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