Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) remains a significant public health problem, accounting for over 5% of all cancer-related deaths, and these deaths primarily result from metastatic disease. The molecular processes involved in HNSCC pathogenesis and progression are poorly understood, and here we present experimental evidence for a direct role of the cell surface receptor tyrosine kinase, TrkB, in HNSCC tumor progression. Using immunohistochemical analysis and transcriptional profiling of archival HNSCC tumor specimens, we found that TrkB and its secreted ligand, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are expresses in greater than 50% of human HNSCC tumors, but not in normal upper aerodigestive tract (UADT) epithelia. Studies with HNSCC cell lines reveal that in vitro stimulation with BDNF, the ligand for TrkB, upregulates the migration and invasion of HNSCC cells, and both transient and stable suppressions of TrkB result in significant abrogation of constitutive and ligand-mediated migration and invasion. Furthermore, enforced overexpression of TrkB results in altered expression of molecular mediators of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), including downregulation of E-cadherin and upregulation of Twist. Using an in vivo mouse model of HNSCC, we were able to show that downregulation of TrkB suppresses tumor growth. These results directly implicate TrkB in EMT and the invasive behavior of HNSCC, and correlate with the in vivo overexpression of TrkB in human HNSCC. Taken together, these data suggest that the TrkB receptor may be a critical component in the multi-step tumor progression of HNSCC, and may be an attractive target for much needed new therapies for this disease.
View details for DOI 10.1038/onc.2009.486
View details for Web of Science ID 000276402800004
View details for PubMedID 20101235