AIMS--To determine the pattern of p53 immunoreactivity in cervical squamous epithelium and to investigate the relation between p53 immunostaining and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. METHODS--Immunocytochemistry for p53 was performed in 65 specimens of formalin fixed, paraffin wax embedded cervical tissue using a polyclonal antibody against recombinant p53. Microwave oven heating was used for antigen retrieval. Eight normal biopsy specimens, eight cases with histological features of HPV infection, and 49 cases of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) were examined. Thirty one cases of CIN were examined. Thirty one cases of CIN were examined for evidence of HPV infection using in situ hybridisation with probes directed against wide spectrum HPV, HPV 16 and HPV 18. RESULTS--p53 immunoreactivity was seen in seven of eight (87%) of specimens with histological features of HPV infection, five of eight (62%) normal specimens, 13 of 22 (59%) CIN III, three of 14 (21%) CIN II and five of 13 (38%) CIN I specimens. The numbers of positive nuclei were small in cases of CIN and the location of positive nuclei within the epithelium paralleled the degree of dysplasia. Eleven of 15 (73%) CIN specimens which were immunoreactive for p53 yielded a positive signal for HPV by in situ hybridisation. A positive signal for HPV was also seen in 10 of 16 (63%) of CIN specimens in which p53 staining was absent. CONCLUSIONS--p53 immunoreactivity can be demonstrated in a small proportion of cells in the cervical squamous epithelium in a significant proportion of cases of CIN. This immunoreactivity seems to be independent of the presence of HPV, as assessed by in situ hybridisation. p53 immunoreactivity also occurs in non-neoplastic cervical squamous epithelium with a pattern of distribution within the epithelium which differs from that seen in CIN. Antigen retrieval by microwave oven heating enhances p53 immunostaining and may result in visualisation of cellular p53 in the absence of mutation.
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