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Automated immunohistochemical quantification of hypoxia biomarkers shows correlation with dysplastic epithelial changes.

OBJECTIVE: Dysregulation of the hypoxia-aerobic system has been postulated in various malignancies. Nonetheless, the contribution of hypoxia to oral carcinogenesis is yet to be elucidated. Understanding this mechanism is important for improving diagnostic tools and targeted therapies. This study aimed to assess the dysregulation of hypoxia-related factors during different stages of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) development.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Ninety-two patients diagnosed clinically with oral leukoplakia or OSCC were included and classified according to their histopathological diagnoses. A panel of seven hypoxia-related antibodies were used for immunohistochemical staining of each case. Automated quantification of immunostaining was used for objective reporting. Microvessel density was also assessed.

RESULTS: Significant associations were reported for non-dysplastic epithelial changes and malignancy for Glut1, HIF-1α, VEGF, and STAT3 (p < 0.005). Similarly, microvessel density significantly increased with the severity of epithelial disorders. A multiple regression model including the H-score of HIF-1α and microvessel density could statistically significantly predict the grade of epithelial disorder (p < 0.005). The associated diagnostic accuracy of this approach was 88%.

CONCLUSIONS: Hypoxia-associated events are observed during early epithelial dysplastic changes and have a potential role in oral carcinogenesis. The level of hypoxia may assist in stratifying the severity of epithelial changes among patients with oral leukoplakia.

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