Research Highlight

New genetic marker for oral cancer

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.106 Published online 22 August 2017

By sequencing the genomes of specific oral cancer patients, researchers have identified a marker which is highly expressed in tongue tumour cells1. This gene is a potential biomarker for early-stage tongue cancer.

Tongue squamous cell carcinoma is the most predominant form of oral cancer in patients in developing countries. Tobacco use and chewing betel-quid, a combination of betel leaf, areca nut, and slaked lime cause genetic mutations that can eventually lead to tongue cancer.

In search of a biomarker for early detection, scientists led by Amit Dutt and Sudhir Nair from the Tata Memorial Centre and Homi Bhabha National Institute, both in Mumbai, sequenced the genomes of fifty-seven cancer patients using the next-generation sequencing technique.

They homed in on a set of genes including matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) genes which were highly expressed in the tongue cancer cells. Of all the MMP genes, MMP10 is known to trigger inflammation and migration of cancer cells to multiple organs, a process known as metastasis.

MMP10 encodes MMP10 protein which was found in a large proportion of primary tongue tumours. Proteins belonging to family of MMP degrade extracellular matrix proteins, allowing cancer cells to invade multiple organs. 

“Sequencing the genomes of Indian tongue cancer patients reveals that it is primarily driven by tobacco use,” Dutt says.


1. Upadhyay, P. et al. Genomic characterization of tobacco/nut chewing HPV-negative early stage tongue tumors identify MMP10 as a candidate to predict metastases. Oral. Oncol.73, 56-64 (2017)