Tumor Metabolism in the Microenvironment of Nodal Metastasis in Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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In many cancers, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), different regions within a tumor have different metabolic phenotypes. Transfer of metabolites between compartments promotes tumor growth and aggressive behavior. Metabolic compartmentalization in HNSCC nodal metastases has not been studied, nor has its impact on extracapsular extension or clinical outcomes been determined.

Study Design

Retrospective analysis based on immunohistochemistry staining.


Tertiary care center.

Subjects and Methods

Primary tumors and nodal metastases from 34 surgically treated oral cavity HNSCC patients with extracapsular extension (ECE) were stained for monocarboyxlate transporter (MCT) 4, MCT1, translocase of outer mitochondrial membrane 20, and Ki-67. Strength of staining was assessed using a computer-assisted pathology algorithm. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) scores along with clinical factors were used to predict disease-free survival (DFS).


Patterns of IHC staining showed metabolic compartmentalization both at the primary tumor sites and in nodal metastases. MCT4 staining in the perinodal stroma was significantly higher in specimens with ECE greater than 1 mm (macro-ECE, P = .01). Patients with high perinodal MCT4 staining were compared with those with low perinodal MCT4 staining. On multivariate analysis, only high perinodal MCT4 staining had a significant impact on DFS (P = .02); patients with high perinodal MCT4 had worse survival. DFS was not significantly worsened by advancing T stage, N stage, ECE extent, or perineural invasion.


Oral HNSCC displays compartmentalized tumor metabolism at both primary and metastases. Greater cancer-associated stromal conversion around ECE, denoted by high stromal MCT4, may be a biomarker for aggressive disease and worsened DFS.

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