Background: Dysplastic oral leukoplakia (DOL) has been the index lesion in prevention trials for upper aerodigestive tract squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Vitamin A derivatives, including 13-cis retinoic acid (13-CRA), have been used to treat DOL and to reduce the risk of subsequent SCC. Results from a trial of 13-CRA in patients with DOL are presented here. Transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) and the epidermal growth factor receptor messenger RNA (mRNA) expression were studied to validate their use as surrogate endpoint biomarkers in prevention trials for SCC.
Study design: In a prospective, randomized, double-blind trial of 13-CRA in 28 patients with DOL, TGF-alpha and epidermal growth factor receptor mRNA expression were analyzed in sequential biopsy specimens of DOL and of adjacent normal-appearing mucosa, utilizing a quantitative, competitive, reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and were compared using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test for paired comparisons.
Results: In biopsy specimens of DOL, TGF-alpha mRNA expression at baseline, but not baseline expression of epidermal growth factor receptor mRNA, was significantly elevated when compared with its expression in specimens from adjacent normal-appearing mucosa (p = 0.003). In patients randomized to 13-CRA who had > or = 50% clearance of DOL during treatment, significant modulation of TGF-alpha mRNA overexpression was seen after 6 months of treatment (p = 0.016). TGF-alpha mRNA overexpression at baseline predicted a subsequent response to 13-CRA (p 0.066).
Conclusions: The full extent of the association between TGF-alpha overexpression and the development of SCC is unknown. Evidence is presented in this article that TGF-alpha overexpression mediates the relationship between 13-CRA and DOL, but there is no direct evidence that it mediates the relationship between 13-CRA and the prevention of SCC. Determination of the extent to which TGF-alpha overexpression mediates this relationship and complete validation of TGF-alpha's role as a surrogate endpoint biomarker await the results of animal and human trials that utilize reduction in the incidence of SCC as their endpoint.