BACKGROUND: Undifferentiated nasopharyngeal carcinomas are rare in a majority of countries but they occur at a high incidence in South China and to a lesser extent in North Africa. They are constantly associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) regardless of patient geographic origin. In North Africa, the distribution of NPC cases according to patient age is bi-modal with a large group of patients being around 50 years old (80%) and a smaller group below 25 years old. We and others have previously shown that the juvenile form of NPC has distinct biological characteristics including a low amount of p53 and Bcl2 in the tumor tissue and a low level of anti-EBV IgG and IgA in the peripheral blood.
RESULTS: To get more insight on potential oncogenic mechanisms specific of these two forms, LMP1 abundance was assessed in 82 NPC patients of both groups, using immuno-histochemistry and semi-quantitative evaluation of tissue staining. Serum levels of anti-EBV antibodies were simultaneously assessed. For LMP1 staining, we used the S12 antibody which has proven to be more sensitive than the common anti-LMP1 CS1-4 for analysis of tissue sections. In all NPC biopsies, at least a small fraction of cells was positively stained by S12. LMP1 abundance was strongly correlated to patient age, with higher amounts of the viral protein detected in specimens of the juvenile form. In contrast, LMP1 abundance was not correlated to the presence of lymph node or visceral metastases, nor to the risk of metastatic recurrence. It was also independent of the level of circulating anti-EBV antibodies.
CONCLUSION: The high amount of LMP1 recorded in tumors from young patients confirms that the juvenile form of NPC has specific features regarding not only cellular but also viral gene expression.