Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is the most common human cancer worldwide. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) make up almost all NMSC. SCC usually arises from actinic keratosis (AK) as a result of exposure to sunlight. SCC and AK provide a useful clinical model to investigate changes involved in the progression of NMSC.
This project examines the expression of Brm, Brg-1, Snail 1 and Snail 2 in the progression of NMSC. Brm and Brg-1 are subunits of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodelling complex which is involved in regulating the access of cell machinery to DNA by altering the structure of chromatin. It has been suggested that loss of this function is involved in carcinogenesis as the cell is unable to access to DNA normally in order to repair mutations or activate apoptosis. The loss of Brm or Brg-1 has been described in several human cancers. Snail 1 and Snail 2 are zinc-finger transcription factors that are known for their role in epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process vital to embryological development. Increased expression of these factors leads to a loss of cell-cell adhesion and a migratory phenotype and has been described in some human cancers. In this project, double-label immunohistochemistry was used to determine the relative expression of these proteins in human SCC, BCC, AK and normal skin.
The expression of Snail was unable to be determined due to poor specificity of the antibodies used. The expression of both Brm and Brg-1 proteins was found to be dramatically and consistently decreased in SCC and BCC when compared to normal skin and AK. This loss of Brm and Brg-1 occured as the tumour progressed from benign AK to malignant SCC. This finding suggests that the loss of either Brm or Brg-1 constitutes a key step in carcinogenesis. The results of this study identify Brm and Brg-1 as putative tumour suppressors involved in the progression of non-melanoma skin cancer from benign to malignant.