Prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) expression in adenoid cystic carcinoma of the head and neck

BMC Cancer. 2020 Jun 5;20(1):519. doi: 10.1186/s12885-020-06847-9.


Background: Treatment options for advanced head and neck adenoid cystic carcinoma (AdCC) are limited. Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen (PSMA), a transmembrane protein that is known for its use in diagnostics and targeted therapy in prostate cancer, is also expressed by AdCC. This study aimed to analyse PSMA expression in a large cohort of primary, recurrent and metastasized AdCC of the head and neck.

Methods: One hundred ten consecutive patients with histologically confirmed AdCC in the period 1990-2017 were included. An analysis was made of clinical details, revised pathology and semiquantitative immunohistochemical expression of PSMA on tissue microarray and whole slides. Associations of PSMA expression with clinicopathological parameters were explored and survival was analysed by multivariate Cox-proportional Hazard analysis.

Results: PSMA expression was present in 94% of the 110 primary tumours, with a median of 31% positive cells (IQR 15-60%). Primary tumours (n = 18) that recurred (n = 15) and/or had metastases (n = 10) demonstrated 40, 60 and 23% expression respectively. Expression was not independently related to increased pathological stage, tumour grade, and the occurrence of locoregional recurrence or metastasis. After dichotomization, only primary tumour PSMA expression ≤10% appeared to be associated with reduced 10-years recurrence-free survival (HR 3.0, 95% CI 1.1-8.5, p = .04).

Conclusions: PSMA is highly expressed in primary, recurrent and metastatic AdCC of the salivary and seromucous glands. PSMA expression has no value in predicting clinical behaviour of AdCC although low expression may indicate a reduced recurrence-free survival. This study provides supporting results to consider using PSMA as target for imaging and therapy when other diagnostic and palliative treatment options fail.

Keywords: Adenoid cystic carcinoma; Immunohistochemistry; PSMA; Prostate-specific membrane antigen; Salivary gland neoplasms; Survival analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, Surface / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Adenoid Cystic / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Adenoid Cystic / pathology*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Glutamate Carboxypeptidase II / metabolism*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / epidemiology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult


  • Antigens, Surface
  • FOLH1 protein, human
  • Glutamate Carboxypeptidase II