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Cell Death Dis. 2019 Dec 4;10(12):912. doi: 10.1038/s41419-019-2150-8.

Exploring the potential of BH3 mimetic therapy in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Author information

1
Liverpool Head and Neck Centre, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK.
2
Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK.
3
Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK.
4
Department of Biostatistics, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK.
5
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, Division of Infection, Immunity and Respiratory Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK.
6
Liverpool Head and Neck Centre, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK. svar@liverpool.ac.uk.
7
Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK. svar@liverpool.ac.uk.
8
Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK. svar@liverpool.ac.uk.

Abstract

Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, with overall survival of less than 50%. Current therapeutic strategies involving a combination of surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy are associated with debilitating side effects, highlighting the need for more specific and efficacious therapies. Inhibitors of BCL-2 family proteins (BH3 mimetics) are under investigation or in clinical practice for several hematological malignancies and show promise in solid tumors. In order to explore the therapeutic potential of BH3 mimetics in the treatment of SCCHN, we assessed the expression levels of BCL-2, BCL-XL, and MCL-1 via Western blots and immunohistochemistry, in cell lines, primary cells derived from SCCHN patients and in tissue microarrays containing tumor tissue from a cohort of 191 SCCHN patients. All preclinical models exhibited moderate to high levels of BCL-XL and MCL-1, with little or no BCL-2. Although expression levels of BCL-XL and MCL-1 did not correlate with patient outcome, a combination of BH3 mimetics to target these proteins resulted in decreased clonogenic potential and enhanced apoptosis in all preclinical models, including tumor tissue resected from patients, as well as a reduction of tumor volume in a zebrafish xenograft model of SCCHN. Our results show that SCCHN is dependent on both BCL-XL and MCL-1 for apoptosis evasion and combination therapy targeting both proteins may offer significant therapeutic benefits in this disease.

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