Expression of E-cadherin and vimentin correlates with metastasis formation in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients

Radiother Oncol. 2011 Jun;99(3):344-8. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2011.05.066. Epub 2011 Jun 22.


Purpose: E-cadherin is a transmembrane glycoprotein, involved in cell-cell adhesion and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Vimentin is highly expressed in mesenchymal cells and is positively correlated with increased metastasis. Here we set out to determine the expression of E-cadherin and vimentin in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC).

Patients and methods: Twenty-six patients with primary stage II-IV HNSCC were included. E-cadherin and vimentin were visualised using immunohistochemistry, semi-automatically analysed for expression patterns and correlated with the clinical behaviour of these tumours.

Results: A large variation in E-cadherin and vimentin expression was observed between tumours (median 17% range 0-51% respectively median 0% range 0-20%). Tumours with low E-cadherin expression showed a significantly higher incidence of metastasis formation compared to tumours with high expression (81% versus 19%, p=0.004). Enhanced expression of vimentin was associated with a trend towards a higher metastatic risk (33% versus 77%) compared to tumours without expression of vimentin. All patients with low E-cadherin and high vimentin expression (an EMT-phenotype) developed distant metastases versus only 44% of the other patients (p=0.008).

Conclusion: Loss of E-cadherin and gain of vimentin may be associated with enhanced migration of tumour cells, leading to higher metastatic risk of HNSCC patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Vimentin / metabolism*


  • Cadherins
  • Vimentin