Deletion of p53 and Hyper-Activation of PIK3CA in Keratin-15+ Stem Cells Lead to the Development of Spontaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Sep 9;21(18):6585. doi: 10.3390/ijms21186585.


Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second commonest type of skin cancer, and SCCs make up about 90% of head and neck cancers (HNSCCs). HNSCCs harbor two frequent molecular alterations, namely, gain-of-function alterations of phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase catalytic subunit alpha (PIK3CA) and loss-of-function mutations of tumor protein p53 (TP53). However, it remains poorly understood whether HNSCCs harboring different genetic alterations exhibit differential immune tumor microenvironments (TME). It also remains unknown whether PIK3CA hyperactivation and TP53 deletion can lead to SCC development spontaneously. Here, we analyzed the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) datasets of HNSCCs and found that patients with both PIK3CA and TP53 alterations exhibited worse survival, significantly lower CD8 tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and higher M0 macrophages than other controls. To better model human tumorigenesis, we deleted TP53 and constitutively activated PIK3CA in mouse keratin-15-expressing stem cells, which leads to the spontaneous development of multilineage tumors including SCCs, termed Keratin-15-p53-PIK3CA (KPPA) tumors. KPPA tumors were heavily infiltrated with myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), with a drastically increased ratio of polymorphonuclear-MDSC (PMN-MDSC) versus monocytic-MDSC (M-MDSC). CD8 TILs expressed more PD-1 and reduced their polyfunctionality. Overall, we established a genetic model to mimic human HNSCC pathogenesis, manifested with an immunosuppressive TME, which may help further elucidate immune evasion mechanisms and develop more effective immunotherapies for HNSCCs.

Keywords: cancer immunotherapy; head and neck cancers; tumor infiltrating lymphocytes; tumor microenvironment.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Genes, p53*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Humans
  • Keratin-15 / metabolism*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neoplasms, Experimental
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Keratin-15
  • Krt15 protein, mouse
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • PIK3CA protein, human
  • Pik3ca protein, mouse