Tumor Biology

, Volume 36, Issue 10, pp 7755–7764 | Cite as

Expression of toll-like receptors in HPV-positive and HPV-negative oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma—an in vivo and in vitro study

  • Lauri Jouhi
  • Neeta Datta
  • Suvi Renkonen
  • Timo Atula
  • Antti Mäkitie
  • Caj Haglund
  • Abdirisak Ahmed
  • Stina Syrjänen
  • Reidar Grénman
  • Eeva Auvinen
  • Sanna Lehtonen
  • Jaana Hagström
Research Article


The incidence of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) has increased over the past decades in many western countries. This trend is mainly attributed to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cancer-related actions of immunological defense systems are being intensively researched. Human toll-like receptors (TLRs) are a family of pattern recognition receptors that participate in the immunological defense against pathogens, but their actions are also linked to cancer. The expression of TLRs in cervical epithelium alters both during the clearance of HPV infection and the HPV-induced neoplasia, but the expression of TLRs has not been studied in OPSCC. Thirty-five paraffin-embedded, formalin-fixed, squamous cell carcinoma tissue specimens were analyzed for TLRs 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 and HPV and p16 statuses. The TLR 9 expression was lower in HPV-positive tumors compared with HPV-negative tumors. TLR 7 was expressed in all cancer specimens, but elevated expression was evident in HPV and/or p16-positive tumors. The majority of p16-positive tumors did not express TLR 5, whereas its expression was stronger in p16-negative tumors. The results of in vitro analysis of five human OPSCC cell lines and one human oral tongue squamous cell carcinoma cell line agree with the in vivo trends: low levels of TLR 5 and high levels of TLR 7 in p16-positive OPSCC. Overall, TLR 7 and 9 expression patterns are demonstrated here to relate to the HPV status in vivo and TLR 5 and 7 expression patterns to the p16 status in vivo and in vitro.


Head and neck cancer Oropharynx Carcinoma HPV p16 Toll-like receptor 



We wish to thank Mrs. Elina Aspiala and Mrs. Päivi Peltokangas for technical assistance, and Prof. Tuula Salo for providing the tongue cancer cell line. We thank Orion Pharmos Foundation, the Research Foundation of Finnish Otolaryngological Association, the Academy of Finland (218021, 255551; SL), and the European Research Council (242820; SL) for funding.

Conflict of interest


Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers (ISOBM) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauri Jouhi
    • 1
  • Neeta Datta
    • 2
  • Suvi Renkonen
    • 1
  • Timo Atula
    • 1
  • Antti Mäkitie
    • 1
  • Caj Haglund
    • 3
  • Abdirisak Ahmed
    • 4
  • Stina Syrjänen
    • 5
  • Reidar Grénman
    • 6
  • Eeva Auvinen
    • 7
  • Sanna Lehtonen
    • 2
  • Jaana Hagström
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Otorhinolaryngology—Head and Neck SurgeryUniversity of Helsinki and Helsinki University HospitalHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of PathologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.Department of SurgeryUniversity of Helsinki and Helsinki University HospitalHelsinkiFinland
  4. 4.Department of Oral and Maxillofacial DiseasesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  5. 5.Department of Oral Pathology, Institute of Dentistry, Faculty of Medicine and MediCity Research laboratoryUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  6. 6.Department of Otorhinolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery and Department of Medical BiochemistryTurku University Hospital, University of TurkuTurkuFinland
  7. 7.Department of VirologyUniversity of Helsinki and Helsinki University HospitalHelsinkiFinland
  8. 8.Department of Pathology and Oral PathologyUniversity of Helsinki and Helsinki University HospitalHelsinkiFinland

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