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Epidermal growth factor receptor variant III mediates head and neck cancer cell invasion via STAT3 activation.


Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is frequently overexpressed in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) where aberrant signaling downstream of this receptor contributes to tumor growth. EGFR variant III (EGFRvIII) is the most commonly altered form of EGFR and contains a truncated ligand-binding domain. We previously reported that EGFRvIII is expressed in up to 40% of HNSCC tumors where it is associated with increased proliferation, tumor growth and chemoresistance to antitumor drugs including the EGFR-targeting monoclonal antibody cetuximab. Cetuximab was FDA-approved in 2006 for HNSCC but has not been shown to prevent invasion or metastasis. This study was undertaken to evaluate the mechanisms of EGFRvIII-mediated cell motility and invasion in HNSCC. We found that EGFRvIII induced HNSCC cell migration and invasion in conjunction with increased signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) activation, which was not abrogated by cetuximab treatment. Further investigation showed that EGF-induced expression of the STAT3 target gene HIF1-α, was abolished by cetuximab in HNSCC cells expressing wild-type EGFR under hypoxic conditions, but not in EGFRvIII-expressing HNSCC cells. These results suggest that EGFRvIII mediates HNSCC cell migration and invasion by increased STAT3 activation and induction of HIF1-α, which contribute to cetuximab resistance in EGFRvIII-expressing HNSCC tumors.

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