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Oncogene. 2009 Jun 18;28(24):2348-57. doi: 10.1038/onc.2009.108. Epub 2009 May 4.

PUMA mediates EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor-induced apoptosis in head and neck cancer cells.

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Department of Pathology, Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Overexpression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is found in over 80% of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) and associated with poor clinical outcomes. EFGR selective tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) or antibodies have recently emerged as promising treatments for solid tumors, including HNSCC, though the response rate to these agents is low. p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis (PUMA), a BH3-only Bcl-2 family protein, is required for apoptosis induced by p53 and various chemotherapeutic agents. In this study, we show that PUMA induction is correlated with EGFR-TKI sensitivity, and is mediated through the p53 family protein p73beta and inhibition of the PI3K/AKT pathway. In some HNSCC cells, the gefitinib-induced degradation of oncogenic Delta Np63 seems to facilitate p73-mediated PUMA transcription. Inhibiting PUMA expression by small hairpin RNA (shRNA) impairs gefitinib-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, PUMA or BH3 mimetics sensitize HNSCC cells to gefitinib-induced apoptosis. Our results suggest that PUMA induction through p73 represents a new mechanism of EGFR inhibitor-induced apoptosis, and provide potential ways for enhancing and predicting the sensitivity to EGFR-targeted therapies in HNSCC.

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