Galectin-3 Expression in High-Risk HPV-Positive and Negative Head & Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas and Regional Lymph Node Metastases


Despite higher stages at presentation, patients with high-risk (HR) HPV-related (HPV+) head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) have better survival rates compared to those with non-HPV-related (HPV−) disease. However, significant comorbidity and the number of patients who suffer failed treatment, recurrent disease, late metastasis, and death are increasing along with the incidence of HPV+ HNSCC. A cytotoxic T-cell-dependent immune response is required to clear these antigenic cancers. This provides a unique opportunity to employ immune modulators in therapy. Galectin-3 (Gal-3) is a lectin and glycoprotein involved in numerous immunosuppressive functions. Inhibitors are currently under clinical investigation for various diseases. Gal-3 expression was evaluated in HR-HPV+ and HPV− HNSCCs and regional lymph node metastases by tissue microarray. HR-HPV+ cases were more likely to be Gal-3-positive (Gal+) [50% (14/28)] than HPV− cases [18% (9/50), p = 0.004]. No difference in the number of Gal+ cases was identified between primary [30% (16/53)] and metastatic [28% (7/25)] cancers (p = 1); 53% (9/17) of primary HPV+ cancers were Gal+ and 45% (5/11) of metastatic HPV+ cancers were Gal+ (p = 1). Nineteen percent (7/36) of primary HPV− cancers were Gal+ and 14% (2/14) of metastatic HPV− cancers were Gal+ (p = 1). Gal-3 positivity was observed in a subset of HNSCC, suggesting a potential role for therapeutic inhibition in this tumor type. The significantly higher rates of expression seen in HR-HPV+ versus HPV− HNSCC suggest particular promise in the setting of HPV infection. The relatively consistent Gal-3 expression rates observed between metastatic and primary tumors argues against progressive Gal-3 expression in metastasis.

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The authors would like to acknowledge and thank the University of Virginia Biorepository & Tissue Research Facility for their skill and expertise in the construction of the tissue microarray and performance of the in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical assays used in this study.


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Correspondence to Joseph D. Coppock.

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Coppock, J.D., Mills, A.M. & Stelow, E.B. Galectin-3 Expression in High-Risk HPV-Positive and Negative Head & Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas and Regional Lymph Node Metastases. Head and Neck Pathol (2020).

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  • Galectin 3
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Oropharyngeal cancer
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Human papilloma virus
  • Metastasis