Practical issues in the application of p16 immunohistochemistry in diagnostic pathology

Hum Pathol. 2016 May;51:64-74. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2015.12.021. Epub 2016 Jan 19.


The p16 tumor suppressor gene (CDKN2A) is a member of the INK4 class of cell cycle inhibitors and is located on chromosome 9p21. The p16 protein binds to cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 and maintains the retinoblastoma gene product in its hypophosphorylated state, which in turn binds to E2F transcription factor and prevents cell cycle progression. Expression of p16 protein is increased in aging cells. Immunohistochemistry for p16ink4a is most widely used as a surrogate maker for high-risk human papilloma virus infection in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues. The most widely researched, accepted, and practiced use of p16 immunostain is in the lower anogenital tract. In addition, p16 immunostain is widely used for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Its applications have also been extended to gynecologic tumors, which are unrelated to human papillomavirus. This article aims to review the literature on the diagnostic utility of p16 immunohistochemistry and highlight the practical issues in the application and interpretation of this stain.

Keywords: Anogenital; Gynecologic; HPV; Immunohistochemistry; Oropharyngeal; Squamous cell carcinoma; p16.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16 / analysis
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16 / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16