Although cisplatin has played a role in "standard-of-care" multimodality therapy for patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC), the rate of treatment failure remains particularly high for patients receiving cisplatin whose tumors have mutations in the TP53 gene. We found that cisplatin treatment of HNSCC cells with mutant TP53 leads to arrest of cells in the G2 phase of the cell cycle, leading us to hypothesize that the wee-1 kinase inhibitor MK-1775 would abrogate the cisplatin-induced G2 block and thereby sensitize isogenic HNSCC cells with mutant TP53 or lacking p53 expression to cisplatin. We tested this hypothesis using clonogenic survival assays, flow cytometry, and in vivo tumor growth delay experiments with an orthotopic nude mouse model of oral tongue cancer. We also used a novel TP53 mutation classification scheme to identify which TP53 mutations are associated with limited tumor responses to cisplatin treatment. Clonogenic survival analyses indicate that nanomolar concentration of MK-1775 sensitizes HNSCC cells with high-risk mutant p53 to cisplatin. Consistent with its ability to chemosensitize, MK-1775 abrogated the cisplatin-induced G2 block in p53-defective cells leading to mitotic arrest associated with a senescence-like phenotype. Furthermore, MK-1775 enhanced the efficacy of cisplatin in vivo in tumors harboring TP53 mutations. These results indicate that HNSCC cells expressing high-risk p53 mutations are significantly sensitized to cisplatin therapy by the selective wee-1 kinase inhibitor, supporting the clinical evaluation of MK-1775 in combination with cisplatin for the treatment of patients with TP53 mutant HNSCC.
©2014 American Association for Cancer Research.