• actinic keratosis;
  • ATF3;
  • squamous cell carcinoma


The histopathologic distinction between benign and malignant cutaneous keratinocytic proliferations can pose a difficult diagnostic challenge – often with important clinical implications. Activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3) has emerged as a potential biomarker which may aid in the segregation of these lesions, and we hypothesize that ATF3 expression may be a specific marker of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Using immunohistochemistry, we characterized ATF3 expression in a series of 126 cutaneous epithelial proliferations, including SCC (n = 27), basal cell carcinomas (BCC, n = 59), seborrheic keratoses with atypia (SK, n = 16), hyperplastic actinic keratoses (AK, n = 12) and prurigo nodularis cases (PN, n = 12). We showed strong, nuclear and/or nucleolar expression of ATF3 in a statistically significant number of cases of SCC compared to BCC, SK and PN. We conclude that ATF3 expression is a surrogate of malignancy (or pre-malignancy) in keratinocytic epithelial proliferations and thus helps distinguish SCC from other cutaneous epithelial neoplasms.