Aim Although the ERBB proteins have been shown to be associated in many types of human tumours and serve as important cancer therapeutic targets, however, data regarding the expression and clinical relevance of ERBBs in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) are still conflicting. The aim of this study is to investigate the expression pattern of all ERBB members simultaneously in NPC tissues using immunohistochemistry and determine their clinical relevance.
Methods The expression of all members of ERBB proteins was evaluated using immunohistochemistry on 82 NPC tissue samples. Relationship between the ERBB protein expression, clinicopathological parameters and patient outcome was assessed using univariate and multivariate analyses.
Results We found that ERBB1, ERBB2 and ERBB3 were strongly expressed in the normal nasopharyngeal epithelial cells. A marked reduction of ERBB1 and ERBB2 expression in NPC was observed compared with the non-cancerous tissues. 76 of 82 (92.7%) cases were ERBB3-positive, while ERBB4 was not expressed in both normal and NPC. The univariate log-rank analysis showed that regional lymph node metastasis, systemic metastasis, recurrence and ERBB3 expression were associated with patient survival. The ERBB3 expression was not correlated to other clinicopathological factors. Furthermore, multivariate analysis revealed that ERBB3 expression was an independent prognostic factor influencing patient survival.
Conclusions Our results suggested that the expression of ERBB3 is associated with patient survival and could serve as a novel and valuable predictor for prognostic evaluation of patients with NPC.