Germline mutations of the PTEN tumor-suppressor gene, on 10q23, cause Cowden syndrome, an inherited hamartoma syndrome with a high risk of breast, thyroid and endometrial carcinomas and, some suggest, melanoma. To date, most studies which strongly implicate PTEN in the etiology of sporadic melanomas have depended on cell lines, short-term tumor cultures and noncultured metastatic melanomas. The only study which reports PTEN protein expression in melanoma focuses on cytoplasmic expression, mainly in metastatic samples. To determine how PTEN contributes to the etiology or the progression of primary cutaneous melanoma, we examined cytoplasmic and nuclear PTEN expression against clinical and pathologic features in a population-based sample of 150 individuals with incident primary cutaneous melanoma. Among 92 evaluable samples, 30 had no or decreased cytoplasmic PTEN protein expression and the remaining 62 had normal PTEN expression. In contrast, 84 tumors had no or decreased nuclear expression and 8 had normal nuclear PTEN expression. None of the clinical features studied, such as Clark's level and Breslow thickness or sun exposure, were associated with cytoplasmic PTEN expressional levels. An association with loss of nuclear PTEN expression was indicated for anatomical site (p = 0.06) and mitotic index (p = 0.02). There was also an association for melanomas to either not express nuclear PTEN or to express p53 alone, rather than both simultaneously (p = 0.02). In contrast with metastatic melanoma, where we have shown previously that almost two-thirds of tumors have some PTEN inactivation, only one-third of primary melanomas had PTEN silencing. This suggests that PTEN inactivation is a late event likely related to melanoma progression rather than initiation. Taken together with our previous observations in thyroid and islet cell tumors, our data suggest that nuclear-cytoplasmic partitioning of PTEN might also play a role in melanoma progression.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.