Understanding and Targeting the Eukaryotic Translation Initiation Factor eIF4E in Head and Neck Cancer

J Oncol. 2009;2009:981679. doi: 10.1155/2009/981679. Epub 2009 Dec 13.


The eukaryotic translation initiation factor eIF4E is elevated in about 30% of human malignancies including HNSCC where its levels correlate with poor prognosis. Here, we discuss the biochemical and molecular underpinnings of the oncogenic potential of eIF4E. Studies in human leukemia specimens, and later in a mouse model of prostate cancer, strongly suggest that cells with elevated eIF4E develop an oncogene dependency to it, making them more sensitive to targeting eIF4E than normal cells. We describe several strategies that have been suggested for eIF4E targeting in the clinic: the use of a small molecule antagonist of eIF4E (ribavirin), siRNA or antisense oligonucleotide strategies, suicide gene therapy, and the use of a tissue-targeting 4EBP fusion peptide. The first clinical trial targeting eIF4E indicates that ribavirin effectively targets eIF4E in poor prognosis leukemia patients and more importantly leads to striking clinical responses including complete and partial remissions. Finally, we discuss the relevance of these findings to HNSCC.