The expression of all four ErbB receptors was compared by immunohistochemistry, using receptor-specific polyclonal antisera, in 32 invasive, 11 in situ carcinomas, six benign lesions, and 22 samples of histologically normal mucosa adjacent to specimens of carcinoma originating from oral cavity epithelium. Among invasive and in situ carcinoma, EGFR expression was the most prevalent (in 29/32 and 8/11 cases, respectively) followed by ErbB2 (17/32 and 2/11) and ErbB4 (9/32 and 1/10), while ErbB3 was only detected in invasive tumours (12/32). Specific patterns included invasive tumours with expression of EGFR (8/32) or ErbB4 (1/32) alone, as well as different receptor combinations (EGFR+ErbB2, EGFR+ErbB4, EGFR+ErbB2+ErbB3, EGFR+ErbB2+ErbB4, and all four receptors). Simultaneous expression of three or four ErbB receptors correlated with tumour invasion (p=2.2x10(-4)) and localized in the intermediate epithelial cell layer of well and moderately differentiated tumours. No other significant correlation with clinico-pathological features was noticed. Some benign lesions and histologically normal mucosa adjacent to carcinomas showed weak immunostaining of EGFR (10/28), ErbB2 (4/28) or ErbB4 (3/28). By comparison, overexpression, as indicated by increased staining intensity, was observed in invasive tumours for EGFR (18/32), ErbB2 (8/32), ErbB4 (3/32), and ErbB3 (3/32). Statistical evaluation demonstrated a significant association of EGFR or ErbB2 overexpression with invasive carcinoma when compared with benign lesions and apparently normal epithelium (p=5.2x10(-7) and p=5x10(-3), respectively). Tumour-specific overexpression of ErbB receptors and their co-expression, most frequently involving EGFR and ErbB2, in the same cell layer of neoplastic epithelium, implicate receptor heterodimers in the pathogenesis of oral squamous carcinoma.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.