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Clin Cancer Res. 2014 May 1;20(9):2300-11. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-13-2585. Epub 2014 Mar 5.

Reverse-phase protein array profiling of oropharyngeal cancer and significance of PIK3CA mutations in HPV-associated head and neck cancer.

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  • 1Authors' Affiliations: Departments of Surgery Division of Otolaryngology and Pathology; Yale Cancer Center, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Departments of Otolaryngology and Cancer Biology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; and Systems Biology Department, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas.



Human papilloma virus (HPV)-associated (HPV+) oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCC) have different molecular and biologic characteristics and clinical behavior compared with HPV-negative (HPV-) OPSCC. PIK3CA mutations are more common in HPV(+) OPSCC. To define molecular differences and tumor subsets, protein expression and phosphorylation were compared between HPV(+) and HPV(-) OPSCC and between tumors with and without PIK3CA mutations.


Expression of 137 total and phosphorylated proteins was evaluated by reverse-phase protein array in 29 HPV(+) and 13 HPV(-) prospectively collected OPSCCs. Forty-seven OPSCCs were tested for hotspot-activating mutations in PIK3CA and AKT. Activation of PIK3CA downstream targets and sensitivity to pathway inhibitors were determined in HPV(+) head and neck cancer cells overexpressing wild-type or mutant PIK3CA.


Analyses revealed 41 differentially expressed proteins between HPV(+) and HPV(-) OPSCC categorized into functional groups: DNA repair, cell cycle, apoptosis, phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT/mTOR, and receptor kinase pathways. All queried DNA repair proteins were significantly upregulated in HPV(+) samples. A total of 8 of 33 HPV(+) and 0 of 14 HPV(-) tumors contained activating PIK3CA mutations. Despite all activating PIK3CA mutations occurring in HPV(+) samples, HPV(+) tumors had lower mean levels of activated AKT and downstream AKT target phosphorylation. Ectopic expression of mutant PIK3CA in HPV(+) cells increased mTOR, but not AKT activity. HPV E6/E7 overexpression inhibited AKT phosphorylation in HPV-negative cells. Mutant PIK3CA overexpressing cells were more sensitive to a dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor compared with an AKT inhibitor.


Protein expression analyses suggest that HPV(+) and HPV(-) OPSCC differentially activate DNA repair, cell cycle, apoptosis, PI3K/AKT/mTOR, and receptor kinase pathways. PIK3CA mutations are more common in HPV(+) OPSCC and are associated with activation of mTOR, but not AKT. These data suggest that inhibitors for mTOR may have activity against HPV(+) PIK3CA mutant oropharyngeal cancers.

©2014 AACR.

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