Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is an aggressive malignancy that may involve the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and paranasal sinuses. The mechanisms of tumor progression underlying the clinical behavior of HNSCC remain unclear. CD44 comprises a family of transmembrane receptors that can give rise to multiple CD44 variant isoforms. Hyaluronan (HA), a major extracellular matrix component is the primary ligand for CD44 receptors. HA and CD44 signaling play an important role in HNSCC progression. Several CD44 variant isoforms (including v3-, v6-, and v10-containing isoforms) are associated with advanced disease, possibly through unique growth factor interactions with binding domains in the inserted variant regions of the cytoplasmic domain of CD44. In HNSCC, HA mediates the formation of a complex including CD44 and the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) which is overexpressed in a large proportion of HNSCCs. Downstream effectors under EGFR regulation are activated, promoting promote cell growth and tumor survival. The leukemia-associated Rho-guanine nucleotide exchange factor (LARG) also associates with CD44 and EGFR to promote several Ras and RhoA pathway effectors, leading to cell migration, growth, and tumor survival. The secretion of matrix metalloproteinases, necessary for tumor cell invasion, is also regulated by these HA/CD44-mediated pathways. Finally, EGFR-mediated pathways play major roles in the HA/CD44 promotion of chemoresistance in HNSCC. Understanding HA/CD44-mediated signaling pathways may lead to improved treatment of HNSCC.
Copyright © 2011 American Society for Investigative Pathology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.