In a previous report, we observed by light microscopy the extracellular matrix in 51 vulvar squamous carcinomas and found that some tumors had a prominent stromal response in the form of a regional or diffuse zone of extracellular myxoid matrix containing immature collagen and fibroblasts at the tumor-stromal junction. These tumors were associated with clitoral involvement, ulcerative nonexophytic growth pattern, older age group, poorer survival rate, and more extensive lymph node metastases than when prominent fibromyxoid stromal response (PFSR) was absent. This behavior was demonstrated despite the fact that these tumors were not larger, more deeply invasive, or of higher grade than when PFSR was absent. In the current immuno-histochemical study, we examined cytokine, cell adhesion receptor, and tumor suppressor gene expression in 50 vulvar squamous carcinomas using a panel of antibodies to identify any potential role of these proteins in the development of a PFSR. Semiquantification of expression into none, focal (<25% of cells showing expression), regional (25–50%), and diffuse (>50%) patterns revealed PFSR to be statistically associated with high CD44, transforming growth factor (TGF) β3, and p53 protein expression, but not with fibroblast growth factor, epidermal growth factor, epidermal growth factor receptor, or E-cadherin expression. When expression of CD44 and either stromal or tumor TGF-β3 expression was high, i.e., regional or diffuse in distribution, 15 (50%) of 30 cases were associated with PFSR. In contrast, only 1 (7%) of 14 cases was associated with PFSR when expression was high for only one of these two proteins and none of 3 cases was associated with response when expression was low for both proteins (p = 0.005). Furthermore, in cases showing high expression for both TGF-β3 and CD44, PFSR was found in 13 (72%) of 18 cases when p53 expression was diffuse compared with 2 (17%) of 12 cases when expression was less (p = 0.01). Since TGF-β acts mitogenically for fibroblasts and has been shown to be an inhibitor of epithelial cell growth, its high expression in a carcinoma with PFSR would suggest loss of effect on the epithelial component but an intact effect on the stroma. Since CD44 is known to act as a receptor for hyaluronic acid, which is a prominent stromal component and known to play an important role in cell mobility and tumor aggressiveness, its high expression in association with PFSR would suggest a role of CD44 overexpression in altered hyaluronate metabolism with accelerated tumor cell migration and subsequent distal spread. The current study demonstrates that alterations in cytokine and cell adhesion receptor status variably occur in vulvar squamous carcinoma and that such alterations may affect tumor morphology and behavior.
©1996International Society of Gynecological Pathologists