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Clinical Cancer Research
Year: 2009  |  Volume: 15  |  Issue: 11  |  Page No.: 3740 - 3750

HGF and c-Met Participate in Paracrine Tumorigenic Pathways in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Cancer

L. M Knowles, L. P Stabile, A. M Egloff, M. E Rothstein, S. M Thomas, C. T Gubish, E. C Lerner, R. R Seethala, S Suzuki, K. M Quesnelle, S Morgan, R. L Ferris, J. R Grandis and J. M. Siegfried    

Abstract:

Purpose: We determined hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and c-Met expression and signaling in human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cells and primary tissues and tested the ability of c-Met tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) to block HGF-induced biological signaling.

Experimental Design: Expression and signaling were determined using immunoblotting, ELISA, and immunohistochemistry. Biological end points included wound healing, cell proliferation, and invasion. c-Met TKIs were tested for their ability to block HGF-induced signaling and biological effects in vitro and in xenografts established in nude mice.

Results: c-Met was expressed and functional in HNSCC cells. HGF was secreted by HNSCC tumor-derived fibroblasts, but not by HNSCC cells. Activation of c-Met promoted phosphorylation of AKT and mitogen-activated protein kinase as well as release of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-8. Cell growth and wound healing were also stimulated by HGF. c-Met TKIs blocked HGF-induced signaling, interleukin-8 release, and wound healing. Enhanced invasion of HNSCC cells induced by the presence of tumor-derived fibroblasts was completely blocked with a HGF-neutralizing antibody. PF-2341066, a c-Met TKI, caused a 50% inhibition of HNSCC tumor growth in vivo with decreased proliferation and increased apoptosis within the tumors. In HNSCC tumor tissues, both HGF and c-Met protein were increased compared with expression in normal mucosa.

Conclusions: These results show that HGF acts mainly as a paracrine factor in HNSCC cells, the HGF/c-Met pathway is frequently up-regulated and functional in HNSCC, and a clinically relevant c-Met TKI shows antitumor activity in vivo. Blocking the HGF/c-Met pathway may be clinically useful for the treatment of HNSCC.

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