The role of c-erbB receptors and ligands in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Oral Oncol. 2002 Oct;38(7):627-40. doi: 10.1016/s1368-8375(02)00029-5.


c-erbB receptor signalling induces pleiotropic responses and influences several biological functions involved in the pathogenesis and progression of HNSCC. Aberrant expression of multiple c-erbB receptors and ligands is frequently observed in tumour cells. EGFR appears to be a dominant factor controlling the malignant phenotype in HNSCC at least in part via regulation of molecules involved in invasive and angio-/lymphangiogenic processes. Although c-erbB-2 is an orphan receptor, the formation of heterodimer complexes appears to be an important mechanism for inter-receptor activation and synergistic signal transduction. The roles of c-erbB-3 and c-erbB-4 in HNSCC progression are less clear. However, their ability to form heterodimers with other c-erbB family members enhances proliferation and invasion in HNSCC cells. At least two major downstream signalling pathways, MAPK and PI3K, are involved in the transcriptional regulation of proteases and cytokines implicated in invasion and angiogenesis. Studies using clinical specimens confirmed experimental data that co-operative signalling of c-erbB receptors may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of HNSCC. Most therapeutic studies in HNSCC so far have focused on the strategies targeting of EGFR. Due to the complexity of the system both at the receptor and ligand levels and the integrated biological functions of the c-erbB family in HNSCC, the effect of combined c-erbB blockade (or their downstream signalling pathways) on HNSCC progression should be explored.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / enzymology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / secondary
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Movement
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Receptor, ErbB-3 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / metabolism


  • Ligands
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Receptor, ErbB-3
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor