Background: The tumor suppressor Programmed Cell Death 4 (PDCD4) has been found to be under-expressed in several cancers and associated with disease progression and metastasis. There are no current studies characterizing PDCD4 expression and its clinical relevance in Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC). Since nodal metastasis is a major prognostic factor in OSCC, we focused on determining whether PDCD4 under-expression was associated with patient nodal status and had functional relevance in OSCC invasion. We also examined PDCD4 regulation by microRNA 21 (miR-21) in OSCC.
Results: PDCD4 mRNA expression levels were assessed in 50 OSCCs and 25 normal oral tissues. PDCD4 was under-expressed in 43/50 (86%) OSCCs, with significantly reduced mRNA levels in patients with nodal metastasis (p = 0.0027), and marginally associated with T3-T4 tumor stage (p = 0.054). PDCD4 protein expression was assessed, by immunohistochemistry (IHC), in 28/50 OSCCs and adjacent normal tissues; PDCD4 protein was absent/under-expressed in 25/28 (89%) OSCCs, and marginally associated with nodal metastasis (p = 0.059). A matrigel invasion assay showed that PDCD4 expression suppressed invasion, and siRNA-mediated PDCD4 loss was associated with increased invasive potential of oral carcinoma cells. Furthermore, we showed that miR-21 levels were increased in PDCD4-negative tumors, and that PDCD4 expression may be down-regulated in OSCC by direct binding of miR-21 to the 3'UTR PDCD4 mRNA.
Conclusions: Our data show an association between the loss of PDCD4 expression, tumorigenesis and invasion in OSCC, and also identify a mechanism of PDCD4 down-regulation by microRNA-21 in oral carcinoma. PDCD4 association with nodal metastasis and invasion suggests that PDCD4 may be a clinically relevant biomarker with prognostic value in OSCC.