Open Access Research article

Human α-defensin (DEFA) gene expression helps to characterise benign and malignant salivary gland tumours

Jochen Winter1, Annette Pantelis2, Dominik Kraus3, Jan Reckenbeil4, Rudolf Reich4, Soeren Jepsen1, Hans-Peter Fischer5, Jean-Pierre Allam6, Natalija Novak6 and Matthias Wenghoefer4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Periodontology, Operative and Preventive Dentistry, University of Bonn, Welschnonnenstr, 1753111, Bonn, Germany

2 Waldkrankenhaus, Waldstrasse 73, 53177, Bonn, Germany

3 Department of Prosthodontics, Preclinical Education, and Material Science, University of Bonn, Welschnonnenstr, 1753111, Bonn, Germany

4 Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Plastic Surgery, University of Bonn, Sigmund-Freud-Str. 25, 53105, Bonn, Germany

5 Department of Pathology, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany

6 Department of Dermatology and Allergy, University of Bonn, Sigmund-Freud-Str. 25, 53105, Bonn, Germany

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:465  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-465

Published: 11 October 2012



Because of the infrequence of salivary gland tumours and their complex histopathological diagnosis it is still difficult to exactly predict their clinical course by means of recurrence, malignant progression and metastasis. In order to define new proliferation associated genes, purpose of this study was to investigate the expression of human α-defensins (DEFA) 1/3 and 4 in different tumour entities of the salivary glands with respect to malignancy.


Tissue of salivary glands (n=10), pleomorphic adenomas (n=10), cystadenolymphomas (n=10), adenocarcinomas (n=10), adenoidcystic carcinomas (n=10), and mucoepidermoid carcinomas (n=10) was obtained during routine surgical procedures. RNA was extracted according to standard protocols. Transcript levels of DEFA 1/3 and 4 were analyzed by quantitative realtime PCR and compared with healthy salivary gland tissue. Additionally, the proteins encoded by DEFA 1/3 and DEFA 4 were visualized in paraffin-embedded tissue sections by immunohistochemical staining.


Human α-defensins are traceable in healthy as well as in pathological altered salivary gland tissue. In comparison with healthy tissue, the gene expression of DEFA 1/3 and 4 was significantly (p<0.05) increased in all tumours – except for a significant decrease of DEFA 4 gene expression in pleomorphic adenomas and a similar transcript level for DEFA 1/3 compared to healthy salivary glands.


A decreased gene expression of DEFA 1/3 and 4 might protect pleomorphic adenomas from malignant transformation into adenocarcinomas. A similar expression pattern of DEFA-1/3 and -4 in cystadenolymphomas and inflamed salivary glands underlines a potential importance of immunological reactions during the formation of Warthin’s tumour.

DEFA 1/3; DEFA 4; Salivary gland; Tumour; Defensins