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Radiation-induced circulating miRNA expression in blood of head and neck cancer patients


In recent years, scientists have found evidence confirming the aberrant expression of miRNAs in cancer patients compared to healthy individuals. The growing interest in the identification of non-invasive and specific diagnostic and prognostic molecular markers has identified microRNAs as potential candidates in cancer diagnosis, prognosis and treatment response. In the present study, we have analyzed the expression profile of circulating miR-21, -191 and -421 in peripheral blood of head and neck cancer patients (HNC) to investigate a possible modulation of mRNA levels by radiation and to identify the role of mRNA as biomarkers of cancer prognosis. Results showed a modulation of the microRNA expression at different time points after radiotherapy, suggesting that treatment may influence the release of circulating miRNAs depending also on the time interval elapsed since radiotherapy. The expression levels of miR-21, -191 and -421 were higher in blood of patients treated with radiotherapy alone after 6 months from the end of therapy and high levels of them seemed to correlate with the remission of the disease. The trends shown in this study confirmed that miRNAs could be useful prognosis markers and could provide preliminary data for further evaluation in predicting patients’ response to radiotherapy by developing miRNA-based treatments to improve the sensitivity of cancer cells to radiotherapy.

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The authors wish to thank the Staff of Department of Radiation Oncology, Fondazione IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo, Pavia for their support to this study.

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Correspondence to Francesca Pasi.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Pasi, F., Corbella, F., Baio, A. et al. Radiation-induced circulating miRNA expression in blood of head and neck cancer patients. Radiat Environ Biophys (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00411-020-00832-3

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  • miRNA
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Radiation