Immunohistochemical detection of p53 protein accumulation in head and neck cancer: correlation with p53 gene alterations

Hum Pathol. 1999 Oct;30(10):1221-5. doi: 10.1016/s0046-8177(99)90041-2.


The genetic and functional status of the p53 gene may be an important factor in guiding therapeutic strategies for patients with cancer. The purpose of this study was to determine whether p53 immunohistochemistry (IHC) accurately reflects the mutational status of the p53 gene and to determine whether p53 IHC independently predicts tumor responsiveness to radiation therapy for patients with HNSCC. p53 IHC was performed using the monoclonal antibody DO7 on tumors from 85 patients with HNSCC treated with primary or adjuvant radiation. The p53 status in all of these tumors was previously assessed by direct sequence analysis of exons 5 through 9: 49 tumors were p53 wild-type, and 36 harbored p53 gene mutations. All patients were well characterized with respect to locoregional recurrence, distant spread, and survival. Positive p53 staining was observed in 53 of the 85 cases (62%). Only 27 (51%) of these 53 IHC-positive cases harbored gene mutations in exons 5 through 9; 23 (72%) of the 32 IHC-negative cases did not harbor mutations. The overall correlation rate between IHC and sequencing was 59% (P < .04, chi2). Discordant results were observed for 35 (41%) cases, including 26 IHC-positive cases and 9 IHC-negative cases. In 7 of 9 cases, false-negative staining was due to a nonsense or splice-site mutation. p53 IHC was not predictive of overall survival (P = .37) or disease-free survival (P = .95). In a sizable number of cases, p53 IHC does not reflect the mutational status of the p53 gene. Specific types of alterations (eg, truncating mutations) and other factors may contribute to this poor correlation. Moreover, p53 IHC does not appear to be an independent predictor of tumor responsiveness to radiation in patients with HNSCC.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / virology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Oncogene Proteins, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Repressor Proteins*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • E6 protein, Human papillomavirus type 16
  • Oncogene Proteins, Viral
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53