Background: CD40 has a role in the regulation of immune responses, cell proliferation and migration, and apoptosis. Little is known of its distribution in oral mucosal pathology.
Methods: Oral keratinocyte lines were tested for CD40 protein by Western blotting. Immunohistochemistry was used to stain paraffin sections of oral mucosa in health and in inflammatory, reactive, dysplastic and malignant disease.
Results: Western blotting confirmed the presence of CD40 in oral keratinocytes. CD40 was generally expressed by keratinocytes in the basal layer, with variable parabasal expression. Langerhans cells also stained positively. Expression was lost in nine of 33 (27%) epithelial dysplasias, seven of which were severe. Eighty-one percent of well, 69% of moderately and 50% of poorly differentiated oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCC) expressed CD40. Overall, 45 of 65 (69%) OSCC were positive. The pattern of expression was unrelated to tumour differentiation.
Conclusion: CD40 expression by basal and parabasal oral keratinocytes is physiological. Expression is lost in approximately one-third of oral epithelial dysplasias and OSCC. The significance of such loss remains unknown, but may be related to immunological or other abnormalities of keratinocyte homeostasis.