The Histopathology of Oral Cancer Pain in a Mouse Model and a Human Cohort

K. Naik, M. N. Janal, J. Chen, D. Bandary, B. Brar, S. Zhang, J. C. Dolan, B. L. Schmidt, D. G. Albertson, A. Bhattacharya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oral cancer patients often have severe, chronic, and mechanically induced pain at the site of the primary cancer. Oral cancer pain is initiated and maintained in the cancer microenvironment and attributed to release of mediators that sensitize primary sensory nerves. This study was designed to investigate the histopathology associated with painful oral cancers in a preclinical model. The relationship of pain scores with pathologic variables was also investigated in a cohort of 72 oral cancer patients. Wild-type mice were exposed to the carcinogen, 4-nitroquinoline 1-oxide (4NQO). Nociceptive (pain) behavior was measured with the dolognawmeter, an operant device and assay for measuring functional and mechanical allodynia. Lesions developed on the tongues and esophagi of the 4NQO-treated animals and included hyperkeratoses, papillomas, dysplasias, and cancers. Papillomas included lesions with benign and dysplastic pathological features. Two histologic subtypes of squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) were identified—SCCs with exophytic and invasive components associated with papillary lesions (pSCCs) and invasive SCCs without exophytic histology (iSCCs). Only the pSCC subtype of tongue cancer was associated with nociceptive behavior. Increased tumor size was associated with greater nociceptive behavior in the mouse model and more pain experienced by oral cancer patients. In addition, depth of invasion was associated with patient-reported pain. The pSCC histology identifies 4NQO-induced tongue cancers that are expected to be enriched for expression and release of nociceptive mediators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-200
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of dental research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • 4-nitroquinoline 1-oxide
  • nociception
  • nociceptive pain
  • oral SCC
  • oral cancer pathology
  • oral carcinogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Dentistry


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