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Cancer Res. 2000 Feb 15;60(4):1121-8.

Epidermal growth factor-like ligands differentially up-regulate matrix metalloproteinase 9 in head and neck squamous carcinoma cells.

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Tumor Biology and Metastasis Group, Section of Cancer Therapeutics, The Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) are characterized by a marked propensity for local invasion and dissemination to cervical lymph nodes, with distant metastases developing in 30-40% of cases. Overexpression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR/c-erbB-1) and/or its ligands and high levels of certain matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) have been associated with poor prognosis. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of EGFR ligands on gelatinase expression and invasion in HNSCC cell lines. We tested epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor alpha, betacellulin, heparin-binding EGF, and amphiregulin and measured expression of gelatinases MMP-9 and MMP-2 in an established squamous carcinoma cell line (Detroit-562) and in two cell lines newly derived from patients with head and neck cancers (SIHN-005A and SIHN-006). Incubation of the cell lines with EGF-like ligands up-regulated MMP-9 (but not MMP-2) expression as measured by semiquantitative reverse transcription-PCR in a dose-dependent manner, with the effects being most marked in cells with high EGFR levels and undetectable in cells with low levels. Maximum stimulation was obtained in a concentration range of 10-100 nM. In addition, we confirmed by zymography that gelatinolytic activity consistent with MMP-9 (Mr 92,000) was up-regulated in parallel with increases in gene expression. Betacellulin (which binds both to EGFR and c-erbB-4 receptors) consistently increased MMP-9 expression and activation to a significantly greater degree than the other four ligands when tested at equimolar concentrations. In parallel with MMP-9 up-regulation, all EGF-like ligands increased tumor cell invasion through Matrigel in in vitro Transwell assays. These activities were independent of ligand effects on cell proliferation. Antagonist (ICR62) or agonist (ICR9) anti-EGFR monoclonal antibodies, respectively, inhibited or potentiated MMP-9 activity and tumor cell invasion induced by all ligands. Furthermore, a monoclonal antibody that neutralizes MMP-9 activity (Abl) also inhibited ligand-induced invasion of HNSCC. We confirmed that tumor cell lines used in these studies (and a larger series not reported here) generally expressed multiple c-erbB receptors and ligands. These results indicate that autocrine or paracrine signaling through EGFR potentiates the invasive potential of HNSCC via the selective up-regulation and activation of MMP-9. Furthermore, ligands such as betacellulin (which is commonly expressed in HNSCC), which can bind to and activate other c-erbB receptors, may be especially potent in this regard.

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