miRNA profiling of primary lung and head and neck squamous cell carcinomas: Addressing a diagnostic dilemma

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To determine whether microRNA (miRNA) profiling of primary lung and head and neck squamous cell carcinomas could be useful to identify a specific miRNA signature that can be used to further discriminate between primary lung squamous carcinomas and metastatic lesions in patients with a history of head and neck squamous cell cancer.


Specimens of resected primary head and neck and lung squamous cell carcinomas were obtained from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded blocks. Paraffin blocks were sectioned and deparaffinized, and total RNA was isolated and profiled. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction was performed to verify array results.


Twelve head and neck and 16 lung squamous cell carcinoma samples met quality control metrics and were included for analysis. Forty-eight miRNAs were differentially expressed (P < .05) between the 2 groups. Of these, 30 were also significantly associated (q < .25) with tumor type in 2 independent sets of primary head and neck and lung squamous carcinomas profiled by The Cancer Genome Atlas consortium, including miR-34a and miR-10a. The ratio of miR-10a and miR-10b was especially predictive of primary cancer site in all 3 data sets, with area under the (receiver operating characteristics) curve values ranging from 0.922 to 0.982. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction confirmed the association of miR-34a expression and the miR-10:miR-10b ratio with tumor type.


MicroRNA expression may be useful for discriminating between head and neck and lung squamous cell carcinomas, including miR-34a and the miR-10a:miR-10b ratio. This differentiation has clinical importance because it could help determine the appropriate therapeutic approach.

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