Investigation of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) process in equine papillomavirus-2 (EcPV-2)-positive penile squamous cell carcinomas
Equine penile squamous cell carcinoma (epSCC) is the most frequent tumor of the external male genitalia, representing 67.5% of equine genital cancers. epSCC is associated with papilloma virus (PV) infection and has been recently proposed as a model for human PV-induced squamous cell carcinomas. It has already been suggested that epSCC might undergo epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). This work aims to investigate in detail this process and the possible role of PV oncoproteins in epSCC. For this purpose, 18 penile SCCs were retrospectively selected and tested for both EcPV2 presence and oncoproteins (EcPV2 E6 and EcPV2 E7) expression. Moreover, immunohistochemical EMT characterization was carried out by analyzing the main epithelial markers (E-cadherin, β-catenin, and pan-cytokeratin AE3/AE1), the main mesenchymal markers (N-cadherin and vimentin), and the main EMT-related transcription factors (TWIST-1, ZEB-1). PCR analysis was positive for EcPV2 in 16 out of 18 samples. EMT was investigated in epSCC positive for EcPV2. The immunohistochemistry results suggested the presence of EMT processes in the neoplastic cells at the tumor invasive front. Moreover, the significant upregulation of RANKL, together with BCATN1, LEF1, and FOSL1 genes, might suggest a canonical Wnt pathway activation, similarly to what is reported in human penile squamous cell carcinomas.