Nuclear p16INK4a expression predicts enhanced radiation response in head and neck cancers

Ruveyda Dok, Layka Abbasi Asbagh, Evert Jan Van Limbergen, Anna Sablina, Sandra Nuyts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Web of Science)


Immunohistochemistry analysis of p16INK4a in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) tumor samples revealed that 28% of tumors showed nuclear/cytoplasmic p16INK4a localization, while 37% of tumors had cytoplasmic p16INK4a. Our previous study showed that p16INK4a inhibits the DNA repair response independently of its function in the cell cycle, suggesting that p16INK4a subcellular localization should be considered during stratification of HNSCC patients.Using p16INK4a mutants with different localization signals, we found that expression of nuclear p16INK4a, but not cytoplasmic p16INK4a impaired RAD51 foci formation, indicating that nuclear localization of p16INK4a is crucial for its function in DNA repair. We next investigated the role of p16INK4a subcellular localization in radiation response in a retrospective cohort of 261 HNSCC patients treated with chemoradiation. We found that only HNSCC patients expressing nuclear p16INK4a expression showed better outcome, locoregional control and disease free survival, after chemoradiation. In concordance with the patient data, only expression of nuclear p16INK4a increased radiosensitivity of HNSCC cells. These results implicate nuclear p16INK4a expression as a potent marker to predict radiation response of HNSCC patients and should be taken into account in intensification or de-escalation studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38785-38795
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2016


  • nuclear p16INK4a expression
  • head and neck cancers
  • radiotherapy
  • DNA repair
  • HPV

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