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Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Oct 1;15(19):6018-27. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-09-0011. Epub 2009 Sep 29.

Proinflammatory mediators upregulate snail in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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Division of Head and Neck Surgery, Department of Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.



Inflammatory cytokines have been implicated in the progression of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Herein we investigate the mechanisms by which interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) might contribute to Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) in HNSCC.


We evaluated the effect of IL-1beta on the molecular events of EMT in surgical specimens and HNSCC cell lines. We examined the correlation with tumor histologic features, and a SCID xenograft model was used to assess the effects of Snail overexpression.


Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2)-dependent pathways contribute to the modulation of E-cadherin expression in HNSCC. An inverse relationship between COX-2 and E-cadherin was shown in situ by double immunohistochemical staining of human HNSCC tissue sections. Treatment of HNSCC cells with IL-1beta caused the downregulation of E-cadherin expression and upregulation of COX-2 expression. This effect was blocked in the presence of COX-2 small hairpin RNA. IL-1beta-treated HNSCC cell lines showed a significant decrease in E-cadherin mRNA and an increase in the mRNA expression of the transcriptional repressor Snail. IL-1beta exposure led to enhanced Snail binding at the chromatin level. Small hairpin RNA-mediated knockdown of Snail interrupted the capacity of IL-1beta to downregulate E-cadherin. In a SCID xenograft model, HNSCC Snail-overexpressing cells showed significantly increased primary and metastatic tumor burdens.


IL-1beta modulates Snail and thereby regulates COX-2-dependent E-cadherin expression in HNSCC. This is the first report indicating the role of Snail in the inflammation-induced promotion of EMT in HNSCC. This newly defined pathway for transcriptional regulation of E-cadherin in HNSCC has important implications for targeted chemoprevention and therapy.

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