Primary mucosal melanomas of the head and neck are characterised by overexpression of the DNA mutating enzyme APOBEC3B

Prokopios P. Argyris, Jordan Naumann, Matthew C. Jarvis, Peter E. Wilkinson, Dan P. Ho, Mohammed N. Islam, Indraneel Bhattacharyya, Rajaram Gopalakrishnan, Faqian Li, Ioannis G. Koutlas, Alessio Giubellino, Reuben S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Aims: Primary head/neck mucosal melanomas (MMs) are rare and exhibit aggressive biologic behaviour and elevated mutational loads. The molecular mechanisms responsible for high genomic instability observed in head/neck MMs remain elusive. The DNA cytosine deaminase APOBEC3B (A3B) constitutes a major endogenous source of mutation in human cancer. A3B-related mutations are identified through C-to-T/−G base substitutions in 5′-TCA/T motifs. Herein, we present immunohistochemical and genomic data supportive of a role for A3B in head/neck MMs. Methods and results: A3B protein levels were assessed in oral (n = 13) and sinonasal (n = 13) melanomas, and oral melanocytic nevi (n = 13) by immunohistochemistry using a custom rabbit α-A3B mAb (5210-87-13). Heterogeneous, selective-to-diffuse, nuclear only, A3B immunopositivity was observed in 12 of 13 (92.3%) oral melanomas (H-score range = 9–72, median = 40) and 8 of 13 (62%) sinonasal melanomas (H-score range = 1–110, median = 24). Two cases negative for A3B showed prominent cytoplasmic staining consistent with A3G. A3B protein levels were significantly higher in oral and sinonasal MMs than intraoral melanocytic nevi (P < 0.0001 and P = 0.0022, respectively), which were A3B-negative (H-score range = 1–8, median = 4). A3B levels, however, did not differ significantly between oral and sinonasal tumours (P > 0.99). NGS performed in 10 sinonasal MMs revealed missense NRAS mutations in 50% of the studied cases and one each KIT and HRAS mutations. Publicly available whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data disclosed that the number of C-to-T mutations and APOBEC3 enrichment score were markedly elevated in head/neck MMs (n = 2). Conclusion: The above data strongly indicate a possible role for the mutagenic enzyme A3B in head/neck melanomagenesis, but not benign melanocytic neoplasms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-621
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • DNA cytosine deamination
  • HRAS
  • KIT
  • NRAS
  • oral mucosal melanoma
  • sinonasal mucosal melanoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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