Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a common cancer among the Chinese population in the southern part of China. The incidence of this cancer drops markedly in northern China. A 6- to 24-fold difference exists between southern and northern Chinese. To investigate the early genetic events involved in the development of this cancer, we have examined loss of heterozygosity (LOH) on chromosome 9p, being one of the most frequent genetic alterations in NPC, in nasopharyngeal tissues including normal epithelia (NP), dysplastic lesions (DNP) and invasive carcinoma (NPC) from high-risk and low-risk regions. We found similar frequencies of 9p LOH in NPC from high-risk (77.8%) and low-risk (63.6%) regions (p = 0.43). In contrast, 45% of normal nasopharyngeal epithelia from the high-risk region showed 9p LOH, while none of the NP from the low-risk region showed such abnormalities (p = 0.002). Deletions of chromosome 9p were found in 66.7% dysplastic nasopharyngeal lesions. These findings suggest that LOH of chromosome 9p is an early event in the tumorigenesis of NPC. The increased risk of NPC in southern Chinese may be related to early loss of genetic materials as indicated by 9p LOH in the NP from high- and low-risk regions. We also reported previously that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) latent infection was present in all high-grade DNP and NPC but not in any NP from fetuses or normal adults. Thus, early genetic alterations such as 9p LOH may take place prior to EBV latent infection and expand clonally thereafter.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.