Potential role of the OVOL1-OVOL2 axis and c-Myc in the progression of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma

Mod Pathol. 2017 Jul;30(7):919-927. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2016.169. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


OVOL1 and OVOL2 are ubiquitously conserved genes encoding C2H2 zinc-finger transcription factors in mammals. They promote epithelial cell proliferation, differentiation, and mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition, coordinately mediated via the Wnt signaling pathway. We previously reported that human OVOL1 and OVOL2 were preferentially expressed in the normal epidermis and hair follicles as well as their tumors, and found that OVOL1 is upregulated in Bowen's disease and downregulated in cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. The aims of this study were to elucidate the potential role of the OVOL1-OVOL2 axis in Bowen's disease and squamous cell carcinoma, and to reveal the relationship between OVOL and c-Myc, a proto-oncogene that plays a pivotal role in the malignancy of epithelial tumors. We investigated 20 Bowen's disease and 20 squamous cell carcinoma clinical samples and a human squamous cell carcinoma cell line (A431) using immunohistochemical staining and molecular biological approaches. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that OVOL1 was upregulated in Bowen's disease and markedly downregulated in squamous cell carcinoma; conversely, c-Myc was downregulated in Bowen's disease and upregulated in squamous cell carcinoma. OVOL2 was markedly upregulated in the nucleus of Bowen's disease cells, but the distribution of OVOL2 expression in squamous cell carcinoma varied widely; OVOL2 was typically expressed in the cytoplasm, but only sporadically in the nucleus. Furthermore, knockdown of OVOL1 using a specific small interfering RNA increased the mRNA and protein levels of c-Myc and OVOL2. Knockdown of OVOL2 did not significantly affect the mRNA and protein levels of either c-Myc or OVOL1. These results suggest that OVOL1 is an upstream suppressor of c-Myc and OVOL2, and the OVOL1-OVOL2 axis is a modulator of c-Myc, coordinately regulating the invasiveness of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Taken together, this study suggests that the OVOL1-OVOL2 axis is a key modulator of c-Myc expression in the shift from in situ epidermal malignancy (Bowen's disease) to invasive squamous cell carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Bowen's Disease / metabolism*
  • Bowen's Disease / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Disease Progression
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • MAS1 protein, human
  • MYC protein, human
  • OVOL1 protein, human
  • Ovol2 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Transcription Factors