Background Bowen's disease is a well-established in situ malignancy of the epidermis. The keratin expression in Bowen's disease has been studied in many reports. However, the patterns of keratin (K) 14 expression in each case have not been closely examined.
Objectives To investigate if the pattern of expression of K14 has a relationship with tumour progression, we analysed the expression patterns of K14 in relation to the nature of tumour cells, comparing tumour cells in direct contact with the dermis, tumour cells separated from the dermis, and tumour cells invading into the dermis.
Methods Twenty-seven tissue sections from 22 patients were stained with anti-K14 antibody, as well as with antilaminin and periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) staining to evaluate the conditions of the basement membrane. Staining patterns of K10 and integrin β1, and their relationships with proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and Ki-67 staining patterns, were also examined.
Results Tumour cells with no, or with obscured, basement membranes always showed positive staining for K14, while those with continuous (intact) basement membranes usually did not. Of 10 sections showing dermal involvement of Bowen's disease, five were K14 positive and five were K14 negative. All of these K14-positive sections with dermal involvement showed negative or obscured laminin and PAS staining. Most of the sections having K14-negative tumour cells with dermal involvement showed K14-positive lining cells with continuous staining with laminin and PAS-positive basement membranes. K10 was reciprocally expressed with K14 in most of the sections. Integrin β1 was expressed in the basal layers of non-tumour epidermal cells, but not in tumour cells. Ki-67 and PCNA were expressed at high frequencies in tumour cells, clearly demarcating tumour cells from non-tumour cells.
Conclusions Tumour cells separated from the dermis by lining cells were K14 negative with PAS- and laminin-positive basement membranes around them; tumour cells without lining cells were K14 positive with or without continuous basement membranes. K14 expression may be a marker of tumour progression in Bowen's disease.