Targeting BMI1+ Cancer Stem Cells Overcomes Chemoresistance and Inhibits Metastases in Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Cell Stem Cell. 2017 May 4;20(5):621-634.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2017.02.003. Epub 2017 Mar 9.


Squamous cell carcinoma in the head and neck (HNSCC) is a common yet poorly understood cancer, with adverse clinical outcomes due to treatment resistance, recurrence, and metastasis. Putative cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been identified in HNSCC, and BMI1 expression has been linked to these phenotypes, but optimal treatment strategies to overcome chemotherapeutic resistance and eliminate metastases have not yet been identified. Here we show through lineage tracing and genetic ablation that BMI1+ CSCs mediate invasive growth and cervical lymph node metastasis in a mouse model of HNSCC. This model and primary human HNSCC samples contain highly tumorigenic, invasive, and cisplatin-resistant BMI1+ CSCs, which exhibit increased AP-1 activity that drives invasive growth and metastasis of HNSCC. Inhibiting AP-1 or BMI1 sensitized tumors to cisplatin-based chemotherapy, and it eliminated lymph node metastases by targeting CSCs and the tumor bulk, suggesting potential regimens to overcome resistance to treatments and eradicate HNSCC metastasis.

Keywords: AP-1; Bmi1; cancer stem cells; chemotherapy; cisplatin resistance; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mice, SCID
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 / genetics
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Bmi1 protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 1
  • Cisplatin