Changes of cytokeratin and involucrin expression in squamous cell carcinomas of the skin during progression to malignancy



The detection of cytokeratins in neoplastic tissues by immunohistochemical methods has numerous diagnostic and investigative applications, because cytokeratins are usually conserved in tumour cells during malignant transformation. Recently, however, it has been reported that progression to malignancy is associated with commencement of expression of low-molecular-weight cytokeratins. In the present study, 42 specimens from 35 cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin were analysed by immunohistochemical techniques, using polyclonal anti-involucrin antibody and a panel of monoclonal antikeratin antibodies, in order to investigate the nature and differentiation of SCCs. The expression of cytokeratins and involucrin in well-differentiated SCCs was similar to that in normal epidermis. In contrast with well-differentiated SCCs, the expression of differentiation-specific cytokeratins and involucrin was diminished in the immature tumour cells in proportion to the malignancy of the SCCs. Some antibodies, however, stained all tumour cells, irrespective of the degree of malignancy. Furthermore, expression of simple epithelial and non-cornifying stratified squamous epithelial cytokeratins was observed in atypical tumour cells of poorly differentiated SCCs. It is of interest that similar expression was noted in many tumour cells in the lymph node metastases and in some tumour cells in the primary cutaneous lesions. Cytokeratin expression similar to that in normal epidermal keratinocytes was conserved in well-differentiated SCCs, but the expression of cytokeratins changed during progression to malignant transformation. The expression of simple epithelial or non-cornifying stratified squamous epithelial cytokeratins in cutaneous SCCs may be a marker for their capability of invasion and metastatic potential.