Molecular and cellular mechanisms of perineural invasion in oral squamous cell carcinoma: Potential targets for therapeutic intervention

Carly I. Misztal, Carlos Green, Christine Mei, Rita Bhatia, Jaylou M. Velez Torres, Brandon Kamrava, Seo Moon, Elizabeth Nicolli, Donald Weed, Zoukaa Sargi, Christine T. Dinh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The most common oral cavity cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), of which perineural invasion (PNI) is a significant prognostic factor associated with decreased survival and an increased rate of locoregional recurrence. In the classical theory of PNI, cancer was believed to invade nerves directly through the path of least resistance in the perineural space; however, more recent evidence suggests that PNI requires reciprocal signaling interactions between tumor cells and nerve components, particularly Schwann cells. Specifically, head and neck SCC can express neurotrophins and neurotrophin receptors that may contribute to cancer migration towards nerves, PNI, and neuritogenesis towards cancer. Through reciprocal signaling, recent studies also suggest that Schwann cells may play an important role in promoting PNI by migrating toward cancer cells, intercalating, and dispersing cancer, and facilitating cancer migration toward nerves. The interactions of neurotrophins with their high affinity receptors is a new area of interest in the development of pharmaceutical therapies for many types of cancer. In this comprehensive review, we discuss diagnosis and treatment of oral cavity SCC, how PNI affects locoregional recurrence and survival, and the impact of adjuvant therapies on tumors with PNI. We also describe the molecular and cellular mechanisms associated with PNI, including the expression of neurotrophins and their receptors, and highlight potential targets for therapeutic intervention for PNI in oral SCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6011
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Chemotherapy
  • Nerve
  • Neurotrophin
  • Oral cavity
  • PNI
  • Perineural invasion
  • Radiation
  • Schwann cells
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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