Survivin multifaceted activity in head and neck carcinoma: current evidence and future therapeutic challenges

Acta Otolaryngol. 2010;130(1):4-9. doi: 10.3109/00016480902856588.


Conclusions: Survivin expression should be studied as a potential hallmark of higher risk oral, oropharyngeal and laryngeal squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) to develop loco-regional recurrences. These outcomes could have a significant impact on both the treatment modalities and the intensity of post-treatment follow-up. Further investigation is necessary before considering elective neck dissection in patients with laryngeal SCC with high survivin expression.

Objectives: Functioning simultaneously at cell division and apoptosis inhibition, survivin, a member of the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins family, plays a pivotal role in determining cell survival. Significant over-expression of survivin has been demonstrated in most human malignancies and correlated with more aggressive forms. This review focuses on the attempts to translate survivin biologic properties toward both a diagnostic/prognostic tool and a novel therapeutic target in head and neck SCC (HNSCC).

Materials and methods: An exhaustive review of literature was performed to investigate available evidence about survivin expression, biological role and therapeutic potential in HNSCC.

Results: Multiple evidence indicates that, in HNSCC cell lines, survivin inhibition by gene therapy and by small molecule inhibitors significantly increases the anti-tumour activity of several cytotoxic and other targeted therapies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / genetics*
  • Neck Dissection
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / genetics
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / therapy
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / therapeutic use
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Survivin


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • BIRC5 protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • Protein Isoforms
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Survivin