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Oncol Lett. 2014 Mar;7(3):685-692. Epub 2013 Dec 11.

Knockdown of glucose-regulated protein 78 abrogates chemoresistance of hypopharyngeal carcinoma cells to cisplatin induced by unfolded protein in response to severe hypoxia.

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  • 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Hebei Medical University, Shijiazhuang, Hebei 050017, P.R. China ; Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Bethune International Peace Hospital, Shijiazhuang, Hebei 050082, P.R. China.
  • 2Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Bethune International Peace Hospital, Shijiazhuang, Hebei 050082, P.R. China.


Hypoxia renders tumor cells with reduced sensitivity and increased resistance to chemotherapeutic agents. One of the possible mechanisms underlying this unfavorable status is activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) under hypoxic conditions, due to the upregulation of glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) expression. GRP78, an endoplasmic reticulum chaperone protein and a key regulator of the UPR, has been reported to be overexpressed in various types of cancer. However, the role of GRP78 in regulating the cell growth and apoptosis of hypopharyngeal carcinoma cells, with regard to the severity of hypoxia, remains unclear. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate whether, and under what circumstances, GRP78 is associated with hypoxia-induced chemoresistance in hypopharyngeal carcinoma. For this purpose, cells from the FaDu human hypopharyngeal carcinoma cell line were cultured under normoxic and hypoxic conditions for different time periods. No significant changes in GRP78 and C/EBP homology protein (CHOP) protein expression levels were revealed under moderately hypoxic conditions (oxygen concentration, 1%), but these levels were changed over time under severely hypoxic conditions (oxygen concentration, <0.02%). This indicated that severe hypoxia, rather than moderate hypoxia, leads to UPR activation in hypopharyngeal carcinoma cells. Knockdown of GRP78 with short hairpin RNA inhibited cell proliferation and promoted apoptosis under severely hypoxic conditions, even with cisplatin treatment, indicating that GRP78 confers FaDu cells resistant to chemotherapy in response to severe hypoxia. Furthermore, knockdown of GRP78 resulted in a significant increase in CHOP and Bax expression levels and a decrease in Bcl-2 expression levels with simultaneous increase in the levels of apoptosis under severely hypoxic conditions. It was concluded that severe hypoxia leads to UPR activation and elevation of GRP78 expression, promoting cell survival and inducing chemoresistance. Silencing of GRP78 may block the pro-survival arm of UPR, simultaneously promoting proapoptotic signaling through induction of CHOP. Downregulation of GRP78 may be a promising strategy for overcoming the resistance of hypopharyngeal cancer to chemotherapy.


chemoresistance; glucose-regulated protein 78; hypopharyngeal neoplasms; hypoxia; unfolded protein response

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