Oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) is subclassified by the World Health Organization into two different entities: human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive and HPV-negative tumors. HPV infection promotes the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and transformation of keratinocyte stem cells into cancer stem cells. EMT is a crucial process in the carcinogenesis of epithelial-derived malignancies, and we aimed to study the role of its markers in OPSCC. This study consists of 202 consecutive OPSCC patients diagnosed and treated with curative intent. We examined E-cadherin, β-catenin, and vimentin expression using immunohistochemistry and compared these with tumor and patient characteristics and treatment outcome. We found that the cell-membranous expression of β-catenin was stronger in HPV-positive than in HPV-negative tumors, and it was stronger in the presence of regional metastasis. The stromal vimentin expression was stronger among HPV-positive tumors. A high E-cadherin expression was associated with tumor grade. No relationship between these markers and survival emerged. In conclusion, β-catenin and vimentin seem to play different roles in OPSCC: the former in the tumor tissue itself, and the latter in the tumor stroma. HPV infection may exploit the β-catenin and vimentin pathways in carcinogenic process. More, β-catenin may serve as a marker for the occurrence of regional metastasis.
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