Morphoproteomic evidence of constitutively activated and overexpressed mTOR pathway in cervical squamous carcinoma and high grade squamous intraepithelial lesions.

Publication Date



Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2009; 2(3): 249–260.


Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection of the uterine cervix is linked to the pathogenesis of cervical cancer. Preclinical in vitro and in vivo studies using HPV-containing human cervical carcinoma cell lines have shown that the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor, rapamycin, and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-tyrosine kinase inhibitor, erlotinib, can induce growth delay of xenografts. Activation of Akt and mTOR are also observed in cervical squamous cell carcinoma and, the expression of phosphorylated mTOR was reported to serve as a marker to predict response to chemotherapy and survival of cervical cancer patients. Therefore, we investigated: a) the expression level of EGFR in cervical squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL) versus non-neoplastic cervical squamous epithelium; b) the state of activation of the mTOR pathway in these same tissues; and c) any impact of these signal transduction molecules on cell cycle. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue microarray blocks containing 20 samples each of normal cervix, HSIL and invasive SCC, derived from a total of 60 cases of cervical biopsies and cervical conizations were examined. Immunohistochemistry was utilized to detect the following antigens: EGFR; mTOR pathway markers, phosphorylated (p)-mTOR (Ser2448) and p-p70S6K (Thr389); and cell cycle associated proteins, Ki-67 and S phase kinase-associated protein (Skp)2. Protein compartmentalization and expression were quantified in regard to proportion (0-100%) and intensity (0-3+). Mitotic index (MI) was also assessed. An expression index (EI) for pmTOR, p-p70S6K and EGFR, respectively was calculated by taking the product of intensity score and proportion of positively staining cells. We found that plasmalemmal EGFR expression was limited to the basal/parabasal cells (2-3+, EI = 67) in normal cervical epithelium (NL), but was diffusely positive in all HSIL (EI = 237) and SCC (EI 226). The pattern of cytoplasmic p-mTOR and nuclear p-p70S6K expression was similar to that of EGFR; all showed a significantly increased EI in HSIL/SCC versus NL (p<0.02). Nuclear translocation of p-mTOR was observed in all SCC lesions (EI = 202) and was significantly increased versus both HSIL (EI = 89) and NL (EI = 54) with p<0.015 and p<0.0001, respectively. Concomitant increases in MI and proportion of nuclear Ki-67 and Skp2 expression were noted in HSIL and SCC. In conclusion, morphoproteomic analysis reveals constitutive activation and overexpression of the mTOR pathway in HSIL and SCC as evidenced by: increased nuclear translocation of pmTOR and p-p70S6K, phosphorylated at putative sites of activation, Ser2448 and Thr389, respectively; correlative overexpression of the upstream signal transducer, EGFR, and increases in cell cycle correlates, Skp2 and mitotic indices. These results suggest that the mTOR pathway plays a key role in cervical carcinogenesis and targeted therapies may be developed for SCC as well as its precursor lesion, HSIL.