Research Papers: Gerotarget (Focus on Aging):

Mutational load and mutational patterns in relation to age in head and neck cancer

Stefano Meucci, Ulrich Keilholz _, Ingeborg Tinhofer and Oliva A. Ebner

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:69188-69199. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.11312

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Stefano Meucci1, Ulrich Keilholz1, Ingeborg Tinhofer2 and Oliva A. Ebner1

1 Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center, Charité University Hospital, Charitéplatz, Berlin, Germany

2 Department of Radiation Oncology and Radiotherapy, Charité University Hospital Berlin, Translational Radiation Oncology Research Laboratory, Charitéplatz, Berlin, Germany

Correspondence to:

Ulrich Keilholz, email:

Stefano Meucci, email:

Keywords: head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; aging; somatic mutations; sequencing; genomics; Gerotarget

Received: December 21, 2015 Accepted: July 23, 2016 Published: August 16, 2016


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a cancer with well-defined tumor causes such as HPV infection, smoking and drinking. Using The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) HNSCC cohort we systematically studied the mutational load as well as patterns related to patient age in HNSCC. To obtain a homogenous set we excluded all patients with HPV infection as well as wild type TP53. We found that the overall mutational load is higher in patients of old age. Through unsupervised hierarchical clustering, we detected distinct mutational clusters in very young as well as very old patients. In the group of old patients, we identified four enriched pathways (“Axon Guidance”, “ECM-Receptor Interaction”, “Focal Adhesion” and “Notch Signaling”) that are only sporadically mutated in the other age groups. Our findings indicate that the four pathways regulate cell motility, tumor invasion and angiogenesis supposedly leading to less aggressive tumors in older age patients. Importantly, we did not see a strict pattern of genes always mutated in older age but rather an accumulation of mutations in the same pathways. Our study provides indications of age-dependent differences in mutational backgrounds of tumors that might be relevant for treatment approaches of HNSCCs patients.

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