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Abstract

Background  The formation of metastases and the efficacy of systemic therapies in cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) depend on the characteristics of the tumour cells and the host immune response. Aberrant expression of metallothionein (MT) has been observed in several types of cancers with poor prognoses.

Objective  To perform an immunohistochemical study on primary CMM comparing the MT expression of tumours without metastases (n = 23) to that of samples with haematogenous metastases (n = 23) and to examine the correlation between MT staining and immunological markers relevant in CMM progression.

Methods  The immunohistochemical labelling of different tumour sections was analysed using tissue microarrays for the evaluation of the suitability of this method in future studies.

Results  Our results suggest that MT overexpression is significantly more frequent in primary CMM with haematogenous metastases (P = 0.018) and that the overexpression is independent of the Breslow tumour thickness (R = 0.102, P = 0.501). Interestingly, MT overexpression of the tumour cells was correlated with the presence of tumour-infiltrating CD68+ macrophages (P = 0.003), a known predictive factor for melanoma progression, thereby suggesting a role for MT in the development of a defective host immune response. Furthermore, the presence of CD163+ macrophages infiltrating the tumours correlated with metastasis formation (P < 0.001), whereas the presence CD1a+ dendritic cells surrounding the tumours was associated with a lower risk of haematogenous spread (P = 0.003).

Conclusion  Our results demonstrate that MT may represent a suitable prognostic factor that can characterize the metastasising ability of CMM and the tumour-promoting host immune response.