Interleukin-6/STAT3 Signaling is Prominent and Associated with Reduced Overall Survival in p16 Negative Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Research paper by Gregory B. Lesinski, Sreenivas Nannapaneni, Christopher C. Griffith, Mihir Patel, Wanqi Chen, Zhengjia Chen, Rafi Ahmed, Andreas Wieland, Dong M. Shin, Zhuo G. Chen, Nabil F. Saba

Indexed on: 07 Sep '18Published on: 06 Sep '18Published in: Head and Neck Pathology


This study addresses the hypothesis that IL-6/STAT3 signaling is of clinical relevance in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC). We evaluated relationships between key components of this pathway in tumors from a unique cohort of n = 59 fully annotated, treatment-naïve patients with OPSCC. The multiplex Opal platform was utilized for immunofluorescence (IF) analysis of tissues to detect IL-6 and phosphorylated STAT3 (pSTAT3), taking into consideration its nuclear versus cytoplasmic localization. Abundant staining for both IL-6 and pSTAT3 was evident in tumor-rich regions of each specimen. IL-6 correlated with cytoplasmic pSTAT3 but not nuclear or total pSTAT3 in this cohort of OPSCC tumors, regardless of p16 status (r = 0.682, p < 0.0001). There was a significant association between increased total pSTAT3, nuclear pSTAT3, cytoplasmic pSTAT3 and IL-6 in p16 negative tumors. Our data indicate STAT3 phosphorylation was a key feature in p16-negative OPSCC tumors. When IL-6 data was stratified by median expression in tumors, there was no association with overall survival. In contrast, both total and nuclear pSTAT3 were significant predictors of poor overall and disease free survival. This strong inverse relationship with overall survival was present in p16 negative tumors for both total and nuclear pSTAT3, but not in p16 positive OPSCC tumors. Together these data indicate that activation of the STAT3 signaling pathway is a marker of p16 negative tumors and relevant to OPSCC prognosis and a potential target for treatment of this more aggressive OPSCC sub-population.

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