Apoptosis signaling molecules as treatment targets in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Thomas J. Ow, Carlos Thomas, Cory D. Fulcher, Jianhong Chen, Andrea López, Denis E. Reyna, Michael B. Prystowsky, Richard V. Smith, Bradley A. Schiff, Gregory Rosenblatt, Thomas J. Belbin, Thomas M. Harris, Geoffrey C. Childs, Nicole Kawachi, Nicolas F. Schlecht, Evripidis Gavathiotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objectives: To evaluate BCL-2 family signaling molecules in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and examine the ability of therapeutic agents with variable mechanisms of action to induce apoptosis in HNSCC cells. Methods: messenger ribonculeic acid (mRNA) expression of BAK, BAX, B-cell lymphoma (Bcl-2), BCL2 Like 1 (BCL2L1), and MCL1 were measured in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) head and neck cancer dataset, as well as in a dataset from a cohort at Montefiore Medical Center (MMC). Protein expression was similarly evaluated in a panel of HNSCC cell lines (HN30, HN31, HN5, MDA686LN, UMSCC47). Cell viability and Annexin V assays were used to assess the efficacy and apoptotic potential of a variety of agents (ABT-263 [navitoclax], A-1210477, and bortezomib. Results: Expression of BAK, BAX, BCL2L1, and MCL1 were each significantly higher than expression of BCL2 in the TCGA and MMC datasets. Protein expression demonstrated the same pattern of expression when examined in HNSCC cell lines. Treatment with combined ABT-263 (navitoclax)/A-1210477 or with bortezomib demonstrated apoptosis responses that approached or exceeded treatment with staurospaurine control. Conclusion: HNSCC cells rely on inhibition of apoptosis via BCL-xL and MCL-1 overexpression, and induction of apoptosis remains a potential therapeutic option as long as strategies overcome redundant anti-apoptotic signals. Level of Evidence: NA Laryngoscope, 130:2643–2649, 2020.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2643-2649
Number of pages7
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • A-1210477
  • ABT-263
  • Head and neck squamous carcinoma
  • apoptosis
  • bortezomib

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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