Metallothioneins and Megalin Expression Profiling in Premalignant and Malignant Oral Squamous Epithelial Lesions

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Sep 9;13(18):4530. doi: 10.3390/cancers13184530.


This study aimed to assess the relationship and possible interactions between metallothioneins (MTs) and megalin (LRP-2) in different grades of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and premalignant lesions of the oral mucosa (oral leukoplakia and oral lichen planus). The study included archived samples of 114 patients and control subjects. Protein expression was examined by immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence, and staining quantification was performed by ImageJ software. Protein interaction in cancer tissue was tested and visualized by proximity ligation assay. Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests were used to determine the significance of differences between each group, whereas Pearson correlation coefficient was performed to test correlation. Expression of both proteins differed significantly between each group showing the same pattern of gradual increasing from oral lichen planus to poorly differentiated OSCC. Moreover, MTs and megalin were found to co-express and interact in cancer tissue, and their expression positively correlated within the overall study group. Findings of prominent nuclear and chromosomal megalin expression suggest that it undergoes regulated intramembrane proteolysis upon MTs binding, indicating its ability to directly affect gene expression and cellular division in cancer tissue. The data obtained point to the onco-driving potential of MTs-megalin interaction.

Keywords: interaction; lichen planus; megalin; metallothioneins; oral leukoplakia; oral squamous cell carcinoma; regulated intramembrane proteolysis.