Desmosomes are intercellular junctions that have been shown to be down-regulated in certain types of carcinomas and that may play a role in suppression of invasion and metastasis. We have shown previously that immunohistochemical staining for the major desmosomal glycoprotein, desmoglein (Dsg), is reduced in some cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the head and neck, and that reduced staining correlates with lymph node involvement. Desmosomes are multicomponent organelles. We therefore sought to determine whether another major desmosomal molecule, desmoplakin (Dp), showed similar reduced expression to that shown by desmoglein. We have stained 65 specimens of primary SCC of the oral cavity (37 non-metastatic and 28 metatastic) with monoclonal antibodies to both desmoglein and desmoplakin. We show that reduction of Dp staining correlates with loss of differentiation of the primary tumour, degree of invasion and presence of lymph node metastases. Similar correlations were found with Dsg staining. There was also correlation between reduction in Dp staining and reduction in Dsg staining. It is concluded that down-regulation of desmosomal expression occurs in some cases of SCC of the oral cavity and is associated with invasion and metastasis. Desmosomes may have an invasion and metastasis suppressor function.
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