The overexpression of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 is a frequent event in squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are potent inhibitors of COX-1 and COX-2, exert chemopreventive effects on HNSCC cancer development. COX-2 promotes the release of the pro-inflammatory mediator prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), which acts on its cell surface G protein-coupled receptors EP1, EP2, EP3, and EP4. Here, we investigated the role of PGE2 and its receptors in cellular proliferation in HNSCC. The expression of COX-2 and EP1-4 was examined in immortalized oral epithelial cells and in a representative panel of HNSCC cell lines, and based on these data EP1-EP3 and COX-2 expression were evaluated by immunohistochemistry in a large clinical sample collection using HNSCC tissue microarrays. The ability of selective COX-2 inhibition to block PGE2 secretion was measured by ELISA specific assays. The effects of PGE2 on cell proliferation were evaluated using PGE2, its stable analog, and EP2 and EP3-specific synthetic agonists. The results presented here show that HNSCC tumoral lesions and their derived cell lines constitutively express COX-2 and the EP1, EP2 and EP3 receptors for PGE2. HNSCC cells secrete PGE2, which can be suppressed by low concentrations of COX-2 selective inhibitors, without inhibiting cell proliferation. Exogenously added stable PGE2 and EP3-specific agonists induce DNA synthesis in all HNSCC cell lines tested. Overall, our study supports the emerging notion that PGE2 produced in the tumor microenvironment by the overexpression of COX-2 in tumoral and inflammatory cells may promote the growth of HNSCC cells in an autocrine and paracrine fashion by acting on PGE2 receptors that are widely expressed in most HNSCC cancer cells. In particular, our findings suggest that EP3 receptor may play a more prominent role in HNSCC cell growth promotion, thus providing a rationale for the future evaluation of this PGE2 receptor as a target for HNSCC prevention strategies.
Published by Elsevier Ltd.