Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) are associated with abnormal cell-mediated immunity at the primary tumor site. We investigated tumor-derived cytokines as factors underlying such abnormalities. Cytokine mRNA and protein of eight HNSCC-derived cell lines were tested; reverse transcription-PCR results indicated the presence of mRNAs for interleukin 1α (IL-1α) and transforming growth factor α (8 of 8); transforming growth factor β and IL-1β (7 of 8); and IL-4 and IL-6 (4 of 8). IL-2, IFN-γ, and tumor necrosis factor α mRNA were not detected. Supernatants from six of these cell lines were analyzed by ELISA; IL-1α, IL-1β, and IL-6 were found to be markedly increased compared to human papillomavirus-16-immortalized human oral keratinocytes. To determine whether the cell line findings are applicable to primary tumors, we performed immunohistochemical analysis on tumor specimens from 12 patients with invasive HNSCC. Universal intracellular production of IL-1α, IL-1β, and IL-6 protein was detected. We conclude that the aberrant elaboration of biologically active IL-1 and IL-6 may contribute to altered immune status in HNSCC patients.


This study was supported by National Cancer Institute, NIH Grants RO1 CA45225 and RO1 CA64906 (to E. A. G.) and CA16672 (to the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center) and through the generosity of a fellowship from Drs. G. L. Clayman and Helmuth Goepfert in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (to K. V. W.).

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