Background: beta-catenin plays a crucial role in the function of cell adhesion molecules and also participates in growth regulatory signalling pathways that may be involved in malignant transformation.
Objectives: To examine beta-catenin expression in lesions of melanocytic origin for associations with clinicopathological markers of disease progression and for its significance as a predictor of disease recurrence and prognosis.
Methods: beta-catenin expression was examined by immunoperoxidase staining in 50 melanocytic naevi and 91 primary and 50 metastatic melanomas.
Results: beta-catenin was expressed in 96% of melanocytic naevi, in 94% and 65%, respectively, of radial and vertical growth phase primary melanomas, and in 38% of metastatic melanomas. Benign and malignant melanocytic lesions had distinct patterns of beta-catenin localization. Most lesions expressing beta-catenin exhibited cytoplasmic staining; however, over 40% of benign lesions also displayed nuclear staining, which was present only in 10% of primary and 15% of metastatic melanomas. Absent or weak expression of beta-catenin in primary melanomas was associated with several markers of disease progression, including tumour thickness and presence of lymph node metastases. A similar but not statistically significant trend was observed for the association of beta-catenin expression with disease recurrence and prognosis.
Conclusions: These results suggest that loss or downregulation of beta-catenin expression in melanoma cells plays a significant role in progression of the disease.