Background: Although head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the sixth most common tumour entity worldwide, it remains a clinical challenge. Large-scale explorative genomic projects have identified several genes as potential targets for therapy, including fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 (FGFR3).
Aims: The aim of this study was to investigate the biological significance of wild-type and mutated FGFR3 to evaluate its potential as a novel therapeutic target in HNSCC.
Methods: FGFR3 protein expression was analysed in a large HNSCC tissue cohort (n = 536) and FGFR3 mRNA expression from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA; n = 520). Moreover, FGFR3 wild-type and mutant versions were overexpressed in vitro, and both proliferation and migration was assessed with and without BGJ398 (a specific FGFR1-3 inhibitor) treatment.
Results: Although FGFR3 expression for both cohorts decreased during tumour progression, high FGFR3 expression levels were observed in a small subset of patients. In vitro, FGFR3 overexpression led to increased proliferation, whereas migration was not altered. Moreover, FGFR3-overexpressing cells were more sensitive to BGJ398. Cells overexpressing FGFR3 mutant versions showed increased proliferation compared to wild-type FGFR3 under serum-reduced conditions and were largely as sensitive as the wild-type protein to BGJ398.
Conclusions: Taken together, the results of this study demonstrate that although FGFR3 expression decreases during HNSSC progression, it plays an important role in tumour cell proliferation and thus may be a potential target for therapy in selected patients suffering from this dismal tumour entity.