Virchows Archiv

, Volume 472, Issue 2, pp 237–245 | Cite as

The role of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity

  • Nina ZidarEmail author
  • Emanuela Boštjančič
  • Marija Malgaj
  • Nina Gale
  • Tadej Dovšak
  • Vojko Didanovič
Original Article


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has emerged as a possible mechanism of cancer metastasizing, but strong evidence for EMT involvement in human cancer is lacking. Our aim was to compare oral spindle cell carcinoma (SpCC) as an example of EMT with oral conventional squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) with and without nodal metastases to test the hypothesis that EMT contributes to metastasizing in oral SCC. Thirty cases of oral SCC with and without nodal metastasis and 15 cases of SpCC were included. Epithelial (cytokeratin, E-cadherin), mesenchymal (vimentin, N-cadherin), and stem cell markers (ALDH-1, CD44, Nanog, Sox-2) and transcription repressors (Snail, Slug, Twist) were analyzed immunohistochemically. We also analyzed the expression of microRNAs miR-141, miR-200 family, miR-205, and miR-429. SpCC exhibited loss of epithelial markers and expression of mesenchymal markers or coexpression of both up-regulation of transcription repressors and down-regulation of the investigated microRNAs. SCC showed only occasional focal expression of mesenchymal markers at the invasive front. No other differences were observed between SCC with and without nodal metastases except for a higher expression of ALDH-1 in SCC with metastases. Our results suggest that SpCC is an example of true EMT but do not support the hypothesis that EMT is involved in metastasizing of conventional SCC. Regarding oral SCC progression and metastasizing, we have been facing a shift from the initial enthusiasm for the EMT concept towards a more critical approach with “EMT-like” and “partial EMT” concepts. The real question, though, is, is there no EMT at all?


Oral carcinoma Metastasis Epithelial-mesenchymal transition MicroRNA 


Compliance with ethical standards

The study was approved by the State Ethical Committee.



Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nina Zidar
    • 1
    Email author
  • Emanuela Boštjančič
    • 1
  • Marija Malgaj
    • 2
  • Nina Gale
    • 1
  • Tadej Dovšak
    • 3
  • Vojko Didanovič
    • 3
  1. 1.University of LjubljanaInstitute of Pathology, Faculty of MedicineLjubljanaSlovenia
  2. 2.Department of NephrologyUniversity Clinical CenterLjubljanaSlovenia
  3. 3.Department of Maxillofacial and Oral SurgeryUniversity Clinical CenterLjubljanaSlovenia

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