β-Catenin acts as a structural protein at cell-cell adherens junctions and as a transcription activator mediating Wnt signal transduction. Altered β-catenin expression has been associated with loss of cell differentiation and acquisition of an invasive phenotype. In the present study, β-catenin expression was compared immunohistochemically between oral squamous cell carcinoma (30 cases) and verrucous carcinoma (30 cases), and correlated with different histological grades of oral squamous cell carcinoma. Positivity for β-catenin was seen in 17 cases (56.6%) of oral squamous cell carcinoma and 25 cases (83.3%) of verrucous carcinoma, and was significantly correlated with the grade of oral squamous cell carcinoma, whereas no significant correlation of β-catenin expression was observed between oral squamous cell carcinoma and verrucous carcinoma. In oral squamous cell carcinoma, the number of β-catenin-positive cases and the intensity of expression decreased as cancers became more poorly differentiated. Decreased membranous localization and intense cytoplasmic staining were observed in poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinoma. In verrucous carcinoma, β-catenin was demonstrable mainly in the membrane. Down-regulation of β-catenin was significantly correlated with lack of differentiation in oral squamous cell carcinoma. Reduced membranous expression and predominant cytoplasmic localization were prominent among higher-grade tumors, suggesting stabilization of β-catenin and its role as a signaling molecule. Predominant membranous expression in verrucous carcinoma was similar to that observed in well differentiated squamous cell carcinoma, thus corroborating its role in cell adhesion in these subgroups.
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