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Int J Cancer. 2014 Mar 15;134(6):1323-34. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28462. Epub 2013 Sep 23.

The role of the antileukoprotease SLPI in smoking-induced human papillomavirus-independent head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, D-24105, Kiel, Germany; Institute of Immunology, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, D-24105, Kiel, Germany.


Recently, we showed that increased SLPI levels prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infections and metastasis in smoking-induced, non-HPV-driven head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Here, we focus on the role of SLPI in non-HPV-driven HNSCC, investigating tumor tissue and non-neoplastic mucosa from the same patients and from non-HNSCC patients. Gene and protein expression of SLPI and gene expression of annexin 2 (a SLPI receptor), nicotine receptor (α7AChR) and arylhydrocarbon receptor (AhR) were analyzed in HNSCC patients (20 smokers; 16 nonsmokers). SLPI-results were correlated with the patients' HPV status. Non-neoplastic mucosa of HNSCC patients and normal mucosa from non-HNSCC individuals (18 smokers; 20 nonsmokers) was analyzed for the same parameters. Tissue of the inferior turbinate (n = 10) was incubated with nicotine for analysis of the same genes. SLPI gene expression in tumor tissue was 109.26 ± 23.08 times higher in smokers versus nonsmokers. Non-neoplastic mucosa of smokers showed also higher SLPI gene expression (10.49 ± 1.89-fold non-HNSCC; 18.02 ± 3.93-fold HNSCC patients). Annexin 2 gene expression was also increased in smokers. SLPI data were corroborated by immunohistochemistry. A nicotine dependent correlation between SLPI and annexin 2 gene expression (r(2) = 0.15, p < 0.001) was shown ex vivo. Nicotine and smoking increased α7AChR and AhR gene expression. Five patients, showing no/low SLPI expression, were HPV16-positive. A significant correlation between smoking and SLPI expression in tumors and to our knowledge for the first time in mucosa of HNSCC and non-HNSCC patients was established. Together with the finding that all patients with HPV infection showed no/low SLPI expression, these data support our intriguing hypothesis that smoking induced upregulated SLPI prevents HPV infections.


HNSCC; HPV; SLPI; smoking

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