Altered epigenetic regulation of homeobox genes in human oral squamous cell carcinoma cells

Exp Cell Res. 2014 Jan 1;320(1):128-43. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2013.09.011. Epub 2013 Sep 25.


To gain insight into oral squamous cell carcinogenesis, we performed deep sequencing (RNAseq) of non-tumorigenic human OKF6-TERT1R and tumorigenic SCC-9 cells. Numerous homeobox genes are differentially expressed between OKF6-TERT1R and SCC-9 cells. Data from Oncomine, a cancer microarray database, also show that homeobox (HOX) genes are dysregulated in oral SCC patients. The activity of Polycomb repressive complexes (PRC), which causes epigenetic modifications, and retinoic acid (RA) signaling can control HOX gene transcription. HOXB7, HOXC10, HOXC13, and HOXD8 transcripts are higher in SCC-9 than in OKF6-TERT1R cells; using ChIP (chromatin immunoprecipitation) we detected PRC2 protein SUZ12 and the epigenetic H3K27me3 mark on histone H3 at these genes in OKF6-TERT1R, but not in SCC-9 cells. In contrast, IRX1, IRX4, SIX2 and TSHZ3 transcripts are lower in SCC-9 than in OKF6-TERT1R cells. We detected SUZ12 and the H3K27me3 mark at these genes in SCC-9, but not in OKF6-TERT1R cells. SUZ12 depletion increased HOXB7, HOXC10, HOXC13, and HOXD8 transcript levels and decreased the proliferation of OKF6-TERT1R cells. Transcriptional responses to RA are attenuated in SCC-9 versus OKF6-TERT1R cells. SUZ12 and H3K27me3 levels were not altered by RA at these HOX genes in SCC-9 and OKF6-TERT1R cells. We conclude that altered activity of PRC2 is associated with dysregulation of homeobox gene expression in human SCC cells, and that this dysregulation potentially plays a role in the neoplastic transformation of oral keratinocytes.

Keywords: ChIP; Chromatin; Epigenetic silencing; GAPDH; GO; H3K27me3; HNSCC; HOX; HPRT1; Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; Homeobox; OSCC; Oral squamous cell carcinoma; PRC; Polycomb; RA; RAR; RARE; RNA sequencing; RNA-seq; RNAseq; RXR; Retinoic acid; SCC; SUZ12; TNM; TNM classification of malignant tumours; Tumorigenesis; WCMC; Weill Cornell Medical College; chromatin immunoprecipitation; gene ontology; glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; histone 3 lysine 27 trimethyl; homeobox; hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase 1; oral squamous cell carcinoma; polycomb repressive complexes; qRT-PCR; quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction; retinoic acid; retinoic acid receptor; retinoic acid response element; retinoid X receptor; shRNA; short hairpin RNA; squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Genes, Homeobox / genetics*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mouth Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Mouth Neoplasms / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • RNA, Messenger