Polymorphonuclear granulocytes in human head and neck cancer: enhanced inflammatory activity, modulation by cancer cells and expansion in advanced disease

Int J Cancer. 2011 Nov 1;129(9):2183-93. doi: 10.1002/ijc.25892. Epub 2011 Mar 29.


The progression of epithelial cancer is associated with an intense immunological interaction between the tumor cells and immune cells of the host. However, little is known about the interaction between tumor cells and polymorphonuclear granulocytes (PMNs) in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). In our study, we investigated systemic PMN-related alterations in HNSCC, the role of tumor-infiltrating PMNs and their modulation by the tumor microenvironment. We assessed the infiltration of HNSCC tissue by PMNs (retrospectively) and systemic PMN-related alterations in blood values (prospectively) in HNSCC patients (n = 99 and 114, respectively) and control subjects (n = 41). PMN recruitment, apoptosis and inflammatory activity were investigated in an in vitro system of peripheral blood PMNs and a human HNSCC cell line (FaDu). HNSCC tissue exhibited considerable infiltration by PMNs, and strong infiltration was associated with poorer survival in advanced disease. PMN count, neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio and serum concentrations of CXCL8 (interleukin-8), CCL4 (MIP-1β) and CCL5 (RANTES) were significantly higher in the peripheral blood of HNSCC patients than in that of controls. In vitro, HNSCC-conditioned medium inhibited apoptosis of PMNs, increased chemokinesis and chemotaxis of PMNs, induced release of lactoferrin and matrix metalloproteinase 9 by PMNs and enhanced the secretion of CCL4 by PMN. Our findings demonstrate alterations in PMN biology in HNSCC patients. In vitro, tumor-derived factors modulate cellular functions of PMNs and increase their inflammatory activity. Thus, the interaction between HNSCC and PMNs may contribute to host-mediated changes in the tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chemotaxis / immunology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neutrophil Infiltration / immunology
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck