Topical imidazoquinoline therapy of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma polarizes lymphoid and monocyte/macrophage populations to a Th1 and M1 cytokine pattern

Clin Exp Dermatol. 2004 Sep;29(5):505-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2230.2004.01593.x.


Imidazoquinolines are topical immune response modifiers. Imiquimod (IMI), the first imidazoquinoline, is approved for the treatment of genital human papillomavirus disease and has shown success as a therapeutic agent for cutaneous premalignant and malignant tumours. To define the pattern of polarization of the local immune response to invasive cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) we pretreated 10 SCCs that were > 3 cm in diameter for 2 weeks with IMI. The tumours were treated on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and excised the next Monday. A battery of immunohistochemical markers was used to define the mononuclear cell populations in the diagnostic, and the excisional biopsy specimens. The total inflammatory infiltrate was increased after IMI therapy: the greatest increase was in the CD8 T cells with a marked relative decrease in the CD68 monocytic/macrophages; the majority of the CD8 T cells showed expression of cytotoxic granules, T cell-restricted intracellular antigen (TIA) and granzyme B. The relative numbers of monocytes/macrophages were decreased after therapy with IMI with a decrease in CD68+, CD23+, and CD14+ cells and an increase in MAC-397+, and factor XIIIa+ cells. The epidermal dendritic cells showed a > 75% decrease in CD1a+ cells. The immunohistochemical marker profile after IMI therapy is consistent with that induced by a Th1 and M1 cytokine polarization pattern. This cytokine pattern is known to be more effective in defence against tumours as well as viral infections.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aminoquinolines / therapeutic use*
  • Antigens, CD / immunology
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic / immunology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imiquimod
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology


  • Aminoquinolines
  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Differentiation, Myelomonocytic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • CD68 antigen, human
  • Cytokines
  • Imiquimod