Leukoplakia is a potential precursor of oral as well as laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Risk assessment of malignant transformation based on the grade of dysplasia of leukoplakia often does not lead to reliable results. However, oral squamous cell carcinoma, laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma, and leukoplakia express single or multiple members of the melanoma-associated antigens A (MAGE-A) family, while MAGE-A are absent in healthy mucosal tissue. The present study aimed at determining if there is an association between the expression of MAGE-A in leukoplakia and malignant transformation to oral or laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Paraffin-embedded tissues of 205 oral and laryngeal leukoplakia, 90 corresponding tumors, and 40 healthy oral mucosal samples were included in the study. The grade of dysplasia of the leukoplakia samples was determined histopathologically. The leukoplakia samples were divided into lesions that transformed to oral and laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma (n = 91) and lesions that did not (n = 114) during a 5 years follow-up. The expression of MAGE-A3/6 and MAGE-A4 was analyzed by real-time RT-PCR. The expression of MAGE-A 1–4, 6, and 12 was determined by immunohistochemistry. A total of 59.3% of the transforming leukoplakia expressed at least one of the examined antigens as opposed to an expression rate of 3.5% of all non-transforming leukoplakia. There was no MAGE-A expression in healthy oral mucosa. The risk of malignant transformation was statistically significantly associated with MAGE-A expression in immunohistochemistry (p < 0.001) and real-time RT-PCR (MAGE-A3/6, p = 0.001; MAGE-A4, p = 0.002) analyses. There was no significant association between MAGE-A expression and the grade of dysplasia (“low-grade”, D0/D1; “high-grade”, D2/D3) in immunohistochemistry (p = 0.412) and real-time RT-PCR (MAGE-A3/6, p = 0.667; MAGE-A4, p = 0.756). It seems that the analysis of the MAGE-A expression profile may support the identification of leukoplakia at risk for malignant transformation. Therefore, efforts should be made to establish this analysis as a routine procedure in addition to conventional histopathology.
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All authors have read the manuscript and approved its submission. The present work was performed in (partial) fulfillment of the requirements for obtaining the degree “Dr. med. dent.” at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). The authors thank the research technicians Mrs. E. Diebel and Mrs. S. Schönherr for the valuable support in assistance and performance in immunohistochemistry and Mrs. A. Krautheim-Zenk for the valuable support in assistance and performance in RNA isolation and RT-qPCR analyses.