The epidermal growth factor receptor signaling network in head and neck carcinogenesis and implications for targeted therapy

Semin Oncol. 2004 Dec;31(6):734-43. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2004.09.015.


Improved understanding of the molecular signaling pathways that mediate cellular transformation has led to the development of novel strategies for the treatment of cancer. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a transmembrane protein with intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity, transduces important signals from the surface of epithelial cells to the intracellular domain. Aberrant signaling through EGFR plays a key role in the carcinogenesis of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (SCCHN). SCCHN tend to express high levels of EGFR, and the degree of expression correlates with poor clinical outcome. Since EGFR is present at much higher levels in cancerous lesions than in normal epithelial tissue, the receptor has been implicated as a highly specific therapeutic target for the treatment of SCCHN. EGFR can be abrogated at the extracellular level using either monoclonal antibodies or toxin conjugates that compete with the natural ligand at the binding site of the receptor, and targeting of the EGFR intracellular domain has been achieved by specific inhibitors of tyrosine kinase activity. Antisense strategies use synthesized DNA or RNA oligonucleotides to block the translation of the mRNA sequences that code for the production of the EGFR or other proteins with a role in EGFR-mediated cell signaling. Clinical evaluation of EGFR-specific monoclonal antibodies and tyrosine kinase inhibitors has demonstrated limited toxicity in SCCHN patients, and concurrent administration with standard cytotoxic therapies has produced additive or synergistic antitumor effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antisense Elements (Genetics) / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / physiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Precancerous Conditions / etiology
  • Prognosis
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Antisense Elements (Genetics)
  • ErbB Receptors