Nuclear F-actin Cytology in Oral Epithelial Dysplasia and Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma

M. P. McRae, A. R. Kerr, M. N. Janal, M. H. Thornhill, S. W. Redding, N. Vigneswaran, S. K. Kang, R. Niederman, N. J. Christodoulides, D. A. Trochesset, C. Murdoch, I. Dapkins, J. Bouquot, S. S. Modak, G. W. Simmons, J. T. McDevitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oral cavity cancer has a low 5-y survival rate, but outcomes improve when the disease is detected early. Cytology is a less invasive method to assess oral potentially malignant disorders relative to the gold-standard scalpel biopsy and histopathology. In this report, we aimed to determine the utility of cytological signatures, including nuclear F-actin cell phenotypes, for classifying the entire spectrum of oral epithelial dysplasia and oral squamous cell carcinoma. We enrolled subjects with oral potentially malignant disorders, subjects with previously diagnosed malignant lesions, and healthy volunteers without lesions and obtained brush cytology specimens and matched scalpel biopsies from 486 subjects. Histopathological assessment of the scalpel biopsy specimens classified lesions into 6 categories. Brush cytology specimens were analyzed by machine learning classifiers trained to identify relevant cytological features. Multimodal diagnostic models were developed using cytology results, lesion characteristics, and risk factors. Squamous cells with nuclear F-actin staining were associated with early disease (i.e., lower proportions in benign lesions than in more severe lesions), whereas small round parabasal-like cells and leukocytes were associated with late disease (i.e., higher proportions in severe dysplasia and carcinoma than in less severe lesions). Lesions with the impression of oral lichen planus were unlikely to be either dysplastic or malignant. Cytological features substantially improved upon lesion appearance and risk factors in predicting squamous cell carcinoma. Diagnostic models accurately discriminated early and late disease with AUCs (95% CI) of 0.82 (0.77 to 0.87) and 0.93 (0.88 to 0.97), respectively. The cytological features identified here have the potential to improve screening and surveillance of the entire spectrum of oral potentially malignant disorders in multiple care settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-486
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of dental research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • actins
  • artificial intelligence
  • biomarkers
  • cell biology
  • point-of-care testing
  • single-cell analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Dentistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Nuclear F-actin Cytology in Oral Epithelial Dysplasia and Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this