Calprotectin and the Initiation and Progression of Head and Neck Cancer

P. P. Argyris, Z. M. Slama, K. F. Ross, A. Khammanivong, M. C. Herzberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Calprotectin (S100A8/A9), a heterodimeric complex of calcium-binding proteins S100A8 and S100A9, is encoded by genes mapping to the chromosomal locus 1q21.3 of the epidermal differentiation complex. Whereas extracellular calprotectin shows proinflammatory and antimicrobial properties by signaling through RAGE and TLR4, intracytoplasmic S100A8/A9 appears to be important for cellular development, maintenance, and survival. S100A8/A9 is constitutively expressed in myeloid cells and the stratified mucosal epithelia lining the oropharyngeal and genitourinary mucosae. While upregulated in adenocarcinomas and other cancers, calprotectin mRNA and protein levels decline in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). S100A8/A9 is also lost during head and neck preneoplasia (dysplasia). Calprotectin decrease does not correlate with the clinical stage (TNM) of HNSCC. When expressed in carcinoma cells, S100A8/A9 downregulates matrix metalloproteinase 2 expression and inhibits invasion and migration in vitro. S100A8/A9 regulates cell cycle progression and decelerates cancer cell proliferation by arresting at the G2/M checkpoint in a protein phosphatase 2α–dependent manner. In HNSCC, S100A8 and S100A9 coregulate with gene networks controlling cellular development and differentiation, cell-to-cell signaling, and cell morphology, while S100A8/A9 appears to downregulate expression of invasion- and tumorigenesis-associated genes. Indeed, tumor formation capacity is attenuated in S100A8/A9-expressing carcinoma cells in vivo. Hence, intracellular calprotectin appears to function as a tumor suppressor in head and neck carcinogenesis. When compared with S100A8/A9-low HNSCC based on analysis of TCGA, S100A8/A9-high HNSCC shows significant upregulation of apoptosis-related genes, including multiple caspases. Accordingly, S100A8/A9 facilitates DNA damage responses in HNSCC, promotes apoptotic cell death, and confers sensitivity to cisplatin and X-radiation in vitro. In the tumor milieu, loss of S100A8/A9 strongly associates with poor squamous differentiation and higher tumor grading, EGFR upregulation, increased DNA methylation, and, finally, poorer overall survival for patients with HNSCC. Hence, intracellular calprotectin shows a multifaceted protective role against the development of HNSCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)674-682
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dental research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Dr. Brian Guenther for developing the ribbon diagram of S100A8/A9 (Fig. 1). Related work in the authors’ laboratory is supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01DE021206 to M.C.H. and R90DE023058 to P.P.A.). The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


  • S100A8/A9
  • esophageal squamous cell carcinoma
  • nasopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma
  • oral squamous cell carcinoma
  • oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma
  • thyroid adenocarcinoma


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