Hypoxia-inducible erythropoietin signaling in squamous dysplasia and squamous cell carcinoma of the uterine cervix and its potential role in cervical carcinogenesis and tumor progression

Am J Pathol. 2003 Jun;162(6):1789-806. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)64314-3.


Tissue hypoxia is a characteristic property of cervical cancers that makes tumors resistant to chemo- and radiation therapy. Erythropoietin (Epo) is a hypoxia-inducible stimulator of erythropoiesis. Acting via its receptor (EpoR), Epo up-regulates bcl-2 and inhibits apoptosis of erythroid cells and rescues neurons from hypoxic damage. In addition to human papillomavirus infection, increased bcl-2 expression and decreased apoptosis are thought to play a role in the progression of cervical neoplasia. Using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and Western blotting we showed that HeLa and SiHa cervical carcinoma cells and human cervical carcinomas express EpoR, and that hypoxia enhances EpoR expression. Exogenous Epo stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation and inhibited the cytotoxic effect of cisplatin in HeLa cervical carcinoma cells. Using immunohistochemistry, we examined the expression of Epo, EpoR, p16, hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha, and bcl-2 in benign and dysplastic cervical squamous epithelia and invasive squamous cell carcinomas (ISCCs). EpoR expression in benign epithelia was confined to the basal cell layers, whereas in dysplasias it increasingly appeared in more superficial cell layers and showed a significant correlation with severity of dysplasia. Diffuse EpoR expression was found in all ISCCs. Expression of Epo and HIF-1alpha was increased in dysplasias compared to benign epithelia. Focal Epo and HIF-1alpha expression was seen near necrotic areas in ISCCs, and showed correlation in their spatial distribution. Significant correlation was found between expression of EpoR, and p16 and bcl-2 in benign and dysplastic squamous epithelia. Our results suggest that increased expression of Epo and EpoR may play a significant role in cervical carcinogenesis and tumor progression. Hypoxia-inducible Epo signaling may play a significant role in the aggressive behavior and treatment resistance of hypoxic cervical cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16 / biosynthesis
  • Disease Progression
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Erythropoietin / genetics
  • Erythropoietin / metabolism*
  • Erythropoietin / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin / genetics
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / genetics
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / metabolism
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / pathology*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / genetics
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • HIF1A protein, human
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Erythropoietin