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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008 Apr 2;100(7):502-12. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djn059. Epub 2008 Mar 25.

Autocrine and paracrine chemokine receptor 7 activation in head and neck cancer: implications for therapy.

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Department of Otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh Medical School, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.



The chemokine receptor 7 (CCR7) mediates survival and invasiveness of metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) to regional lymph nodes. Constitutive prosurvival signaling by the phosphoinositide-3 kinase/Akt pathway has been observed in SCCHN cells independent of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling.


Human SCCHN cell lines were treated with agents that block or activate CCR7-mediated signaling, and Akt activation, cell viability in the presence or absence of EGFR inhibition, and cisplatin-induced apoptosis (in the presence or absence of Akt inhibition) were assessed by immunoblotting, the MTT assay, and the detection of annexin V, respectively. Expression and secretion of chemokines by primary tumors, metastatic nodes, and benign nodes of patients with SCCHN were determined by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, respectively. The role of paracrine activation of CCR7 on tumor growth was analyzed by comparing the growth of orthotopic tumors derived from B7E3 murine oral carcinoma cells in wild-type BALB/c mice, in paucity of lymphoid T cell (plt, deficient in CCL19 and CCL21 expression) mice, and in plt mice in which the implanted B7E3 cells overexpressed CCR7 (n = 14 mice per group).


In the absence of exogenous ligand treatment, blockade of CCR7 signaling reduced levels of phosphorylated (activated) Akt and decreased SCCHN cell viability by up to 59% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 58.2% to 59.8%), enhancing the effect of EGFR inhibition. CCR7 stimulation protected metastatic SCCHN cells from cisplatin-induced apoptosis in an Akt-dependent manner. Metastatic nodes expressed and secreted higher levels of CCL19 than benign nodes or primary tumors. CCR7-positive murine SCCHN tumors grew more slowly in plt mice than in control BALB/c mice (mean average tumor volume on day 20 = 12.2 and 26.5 mm(3), respectively; difference = 14.3 mm(3), 95% CI = 12.3 to 17.1 mm(3)).


Secretion of CCL19 and CCL21 by SCCHN cells and by paracrine sources combine to promote activation of CCR7 prosurvival signaling associated with tumor progression and disease relapse. CCR7 and its cognate chemokines may be useful biomarkers of SCCHN progression, and blockade of CCR7-mediated signaling may enhance the efficacy of platinum- and EGFR-based therapies.

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