Background: We have previously reported nuclear localization of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) protein in oropharyngeal cancer tissue. Nuclear EGFR levels were inversely correlated with survival and response to radiotherapy. Here, we sought to identify the determinants and correlates of nuclear EGFR content. Methods: We analyzed an oropharyngeal cancer tissue microarray for the expression of the key molecules of the EGFR signaling cascade using an automated image analysis technique (AQUA) scored on a scale of 0 to 255, which permits protein quantitation and subcellular localization. Patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer treated with radiotherapy or surgery and radiotherapy were eligible. Data were analyzed using Spearman correlations and multiple linear regression with robust SEs. Results: Of the 95 tumors included in this study, 72 (75%) had sufficient tissue for analysis of nuclear EGFR. Nuclear EGFR levels were associated with membranous/cytoplasmic EGFR levels (ρ = 0.82, P < 0.001), nuclear extracellular signal-regulated kinase-2 (ρ = 0.30, ρ = 0.01), and nuclear proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA; ρ = 0.36, P = 0.003). Nuclear phosphorylated-Akt, cyclin D1, phosphatase and tensin homolog (mutated in multiple cancers 1) (PTEN), p53, and proliferation marker Ki-67 levels did not correlate with nuclear EGFR level. In multivariable analysis, only PCNA retained its significant association (P = 0.01). Conclusions: These results are consistent with preclinical data showing that EGFR may function as a tyrosine kinase in the nucleus, phosphorylating and stabilizing PCNA. The nuclear activity of EGFR may constitute a novel therapeutic target.
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