Background: Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) is the 6th common malignancy in men. We currently have little understanding of the molecular events of this disease and no biomarkers currently exist for early detection. Recently, small non-coding RNAs such as microRNAs (miRNAs) were shown to be highly stable and could be found in body fluids such as serum. Given this, circulating miRNAs found in the blood of HNSCC patients could act as potential clinical biomarkers for early detection.
Aim: To discovery novel serum biomarkers for the early detection of HNSC.
Methods: Using Agilent miRNA arrays we screened for the expression of circulating miRNAs in patient sera (n=52) showing the four representative subtypes of HNSCC and in sera isolated from normal individuals (n=11). A number of candidate miRNAs biomarkers were identified and validated using TaqMan qPCR. These biomarkers were then assessed for clinical relevance.
Results: Ninety-three dysregulated serum miRNAs were identified across all tumours in comparison to healthy sera. Specifically 166 serum miRNAs were deregulated in oral SCC serum, 22 in hypopharyngeal cancers and 34 in the oropharyngeal cohort. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering and principal component analysis indicated that sera profiles could clearly distinguish between HNSCC and control samples. A selection of these miRNAs was then validated using singleplex TaqMan qPCR.
Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the expression levels of serum miRNAs can distinguish four different subtypes of HNSCC. QPCR analysis supported these findings with further studies now being validated in a larger cohort of clinical samples. Our findings provide a promising foundation for the application of small RNAs as biomarkers for the early detection of HNSCC.