Inter- and intra-tumor heterogeneity of SMAD4 loss in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas

Mol Carcinog. 2019 May;58(5):666-673. doi: 10.1002/mc.22958. Epub 2019 Jan 16.


Reports regarding the frequency of SMAD4 loss in human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) vary significantly. We have shown that SMAD4 deletion contributes to HNSCC initiation and progression. Therefore, accurately detecting genetic SMAD4 loss is critical to determine prognosis and therapeutic interventions in personalized medicine. We developed a SMAD4 fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) assay to identify chromosomal SMAD4 loss at the single cell level of primary HNSCC specimens and patient derived xenograft (PDX) tumors derived from HNSCCs. SMAD4 heterozygous loss was detected in 35% of primary HNSCCs and 41.3% of PDX tumors. Additionally, 4.3% of PDX tumors had SMAD4 homozygous loss. These frequencies of SMAD4 loss were similar to those in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). However, we identified significant heterogeneities of SMAD4 loss (partial or complete) among cells within each tumor. We also found that aneuploidy (monosomy and polysomy) contributed greatly to how to define chromosomal SMAD4 deletion. Furthermore, in cultured PDX tumors, SMAD4 mutant cells outcompeted SMAD4 wildtype cells, resulting in establishing homogenous SMAD4 mutant HNSCC cell lines with partial or complete genomic SMAD4 loss, suggesting a survival advantage of SMAD4 mutant cells. Taken together, our study reveals inter- and intra-tumor heterogeneities of SMAD4 chromosomal loss in HNSCCs. Further, SMAD4 FISH assay provides a platform for future clinical diagnosis of SMAD4 chromosomal loss that potentially serves as a molecular marker for prognosis and therapeutic intervention in cancer patients.

Keywords: Aneuploidy; Chromosomal SMAD4 deletion; genomic instability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Chromosome Aberrations*
  • Gene Deletion*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Genetic Heterogeneity*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Mice
  • Smad4 Protein / genetics*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • SMAD4 protein, human
  • Smad4 Protein