ALDH1A1 positive cells are a unique component of the tonsillar crypt niche and are lost along with NGFR positive stem cells during tumourigenesis

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Interest into the cellular biology of human tonsillar crypts has grown in recent years because it is now known to be the site of origin of most human papilloma virus (HPV) induced oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCC). Despite the interest, still relatively little is known regarding the cellular hierarchy and dynamics of this anatomical subsite. Here we evaluate normal tonsillar crypts for expression of putative stem cell markers. We found that ALDH1A1 was uniquely expressed in a subset of suprabasal tonsillar crypt epithelium. This cell population was unique from NGFR expressing cells, which were previously identified to have stem/progenitor activity in vitro. In vivo mitochondrial lineage tracing was consistent with a basal to luminal progression of cellular development. This provides support for NGFR cells as the resident stem/progenitor cells in tonsillar crypts, and suggests that the ALDH1A1 cells are not stem/progenitor cells, but merely a unique component of the crypt cellular microenvironment. Analysis of tumours found that both NGFR and ALDH1A1 are lost in HPV+ and HPV- tumours, while LGR5 expression is induced in the same tumours. These results identify a unique component of the tonsillar crypt epithelium-ALDH1A1 cells-and support a cellular model where NGFR+ cells are the long-lived progenitor cells within tonsillar crypts. They also provide evidence that NGFR and ALDH1A1+ cells are lost during tumourigenesis.

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Aldehyde Dehydrogenase; Carcinoma, Squamous Cell; Cell Differentiation; Cell Transformation, Neoplastic; Head and Neck Neoplasms; Humans; Nerve Tissue Proteins; Palatine Tonsil; Papillomavirus Infections; Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor; Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck

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