Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, focusing on Epstein-Barr-virus, programmed cell death ligand 1 and serum lipoproteins

Abstract: Background: Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN)comprises a large group of tumours including the oral cavity and nasopharyngealarea, and typically affects older males in association with alcohol/tobacco usage.Within the oral cavity, the mobile tongue is the most common site for tumourdevelopment. The incidence of squamous cell carcinoma of the oral tongue(SCCOT) is increasing in younger people, which has been suggested to associatewith other than the traditional risk factors for this disease. Two common humanoncogenic viruses, human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)are connected to certain types of SCCHN, in oropharynx and nasopharynxrespectively. The receptor programmed cell death 1 (PD)-1 and its ligandprogrammed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) are particularly relevant in immunecheckpoint control, and elevated levels have been seen in various cancer types. Alink between hyperlipidemia and cancer risk has previously been suggested. Theaim of this thesis was to investigate risk factors and prognostic features forSCCHN, by focusing on EBV, PD-L1 and serum lipoproteins.Materials and methods: Ninety-eight cases of SCCOT and 15 cases of tonsillarsquamous cell carcinoma were examined for the presence of EBV-encodedribonucleic acids (EBERs), EBV deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the proteinEBV-encoded nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA-1), using in situ hybridisation,polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and immunohistochemistry respectively. Onehundred and one cases of SCCOT were examined for expression of PD-L1 intumour and surrounding immune cells using Ventana SP263immunohistochemistry assay and a QuickScore (QS) method. An estimation oftumour-infiltrating immune cells was also performed in 25 of the patients.Circulating levels of PD-L1 were measured using an electrochemiluminescenceassay platform in serum from 30 patients. Finally, serum samples from 106patients and 28 healthy controls were investigated for levels of total cholesterol,low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), triglycerides andlipoprotein(a).Results: In the first study, using an in situ hybridisation kit no EBER transcriptswere detected. No EBV DNA was identified with PCR analysis, andimmunohistochemistry for EBNA-1 was also negative. In the second study, highertumour cell PD-L1 levels were found in females than males (p = 0.019). Forpatients with low PD-L1 in tumour cells, better survival was shown in males thanfemales (overall survival p = 0.021, disease-free survival p = 0.020). Tumourinfiltrating natural killer (NK) T cells, immature dendritic cells (DCs) and M1macrophages correlated positively with tumour cell PD-L1 (p < 0.05). In the laststudy, the only lipoprotein showing significant difference in concentration iiibetween healthy controls and patients was HDL (p = 0.012). Kaplan-Meiersurvival curves showed that patients with high levels of total cholesterol or LDLhad better survival than patients with normal levels (p = 0.028 and p = 0.007respectively). Adjusting for the effects of age at diagnosis, TNM stage and weightchange, multivariate Cox regression models showed LDL to be an independentprognostic factor for both overall (p = 0.010) and disease-free survival (p =0.018).Conclusion: We excluded EBV as a potential player in SCCOT in both old andyoung patients and highlight the importance of appropriate controls for EBVencoded RNA in-situ hybridization (EBER-ISH) when investigating EBV inhuman diseases. Regarding PD-L1, our data supported the significance of genderon tumour cell PD-L1 expression and demonstrated combined effects of genderand PD-L1 levels on clinical outcome in patients with SCCOT. Data also indicatedthe involvement of specific immune cell types in PD-L1-regulated immuneevasion. Looking at serum lipoproteins, we found high LDL levels to be beneficialfor survival outcome in patients with SCCHN. Furthermore, the use of cholesterollowering medicine for prevention or management of SCCHN needs to be carefullyevaluated.