Purpose: Focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a main regulator of integrin signaling and cell migration, is frequently overexpressed and hyperphosphorylated in human head-and-neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). We have previously shown that pharmacologic FAK inhibition leads to radiosensitization of 3-dimensionally grown HNSCC cell lines. To further evaluate the role of FAK in radioresistance and as a potential cancer target, we examined FAK and FAK downstream signaling in HNSCC cell lines grown in more physiologic extracellular matrix-based 3-dimensional cell cultures.
Methods and materials: Seven HNSCC cell lines were grown in 3-dimensional extracellular matrix and the clonogenic radiation survival, expression, and phosphorylation of FAK, paxillin, Akt1, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2, and MEK1/2 were analyzed after siRNA-mediated knockdown of FAK, Akt1, MEK1, FAK+Akt1, or FAK+MEK1 compared with controls or stable overexpression of FAK. The role of MEK1/2 for clonogenic survival and signaling was investigated using the MEK inhibitor U0126 with or without irradiation.
Results: FAK knockdown moderately or significantly enhanced the cellular radiosensitivity of 3-dimensionally grown HNSCC cells. The FAK downstream targets paxillin, Akt1, and ERK1/2 were substantially dephosphorylated under FAK depletion. FAK overexpression, in contrast, increased radiation survival and paxillin, Akt1, and ERK1/2 phosphorylation. The degree of radiosensitization upon Akt1, ERK1/2, or MEK1 depletion or U0126 was superimposable to FAK knockdown. Combination knockdown conditions (ie, Akt1/FAK, MEK1/FAK, or U0126/FAK) failed to provide additional radiosensitization.
Conclusions: Our data provide further evidence for FAK as important determinant of radiation survival, which acts in the same signaling axis as Akt1 and ERK1/2. These data strongly support our hypothesis that FAK is a relevant molecular target for HNSCC radiotherapy.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.