Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the most frequent malignant tumor of the oral cavity, generally exhibits a poor prognosis and metastases are the main cause of death. This tumor often arises from pre-malignant lesions. To date, it is difficult to predict if and which pre-malignant lesions may progress into oral SCC using traditional methods. For these reasons, several studies are trying to identify markers useful in the progression of pre-malignant lesions and tumors. To define the genetic expression profile of tongue tumor progression we compared 9 dysplasias (DS), 8 tumors without metastasis (TWM), 11 metastasizing SCCs (MT) of the tongue, and a baseline of 11 normal tissues by using cDNA microarray containing 19.2 K clones. We initially applied hierarchical agglomerative clustering based on information from all 6026 clones. Results were obtained by performing a two steps analysis: a Significance Analysis of Microarray (SAM) and a Gene Ontology search. One hundred and five clones have statistically significant different expression levels (FDR < 0.01) between DS and TWM, whereas 570 genes have statistically significant difference expression levels between TWM and MT (FDR < 0.01) as detected by SAM. By filtering with FatiGo only 33 genes were differentially expressed in TWN, respect to DS, whereas 155 genes were differentially expressed in MT respect to TWM. We detected some genes which encode for oncogenes, transcription factors and cell cycle regulators as potential markers of DS progression. Examples are BAG4, PAX3 and CCNI, respectively. Among potential markers of metastases are some genes related to cell mobility (TSPAN-2 and SNTA1), intercellular adhesion (integrin alpha 7) or extracellular matrix components (ADAMTS2 and cathepsin O). Additionally, under-expressed genes encoded apoptosis-related proteins (PDCD4 and CASP4). In conclusion, we identified several genes differentially expressed in tumor progression which can potentially help in better classifying pre-malignant lesions and tongue SCCs
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