NTF2 Upregulation in HNSCC: a Predictive Marker and Potential Therapeutic Target Associated With Immune Infiltration

Front Oncol. 2022 Jun 17;12:783919. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2022.783919. eCollection 2022.


Background: Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a type of malignant tumor with an increasing incidence worldwide and a meager 5-year survival rate. It is known that nuclear transporter factor 2 (NTF2) transports related proteins into the nucleus physiologically. However, the role of NTF2 in HNSCC remains unclear.

Methods: In this study, RNA-Seq data of HNSCC samples with corresponding clinical information were obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) database. In addition, other expression profiling data were downloaded from the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) database. The differential expressions of NTF2, along with the overall survival (OS) rates were identified and analyzed. Then, the clinical features and expression levels of NTF2 were utilized to develop a prognostic model. The study also utilized the Gene Ontology (GO) and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) methods to determine the related pathways of NTF2. Furthermore, the Tumor Immune Estimation Resource (TIMER) database was referenced to discover the immune correlation of NTF2. In this research investigation, RT-qPCR, western blotting, Cell Counting Kit-8 (CCK-8) assay, wound-healing assay, and immunohistochemical (IHC) staining methods were adopted to perform experimental verifications.

Results: This study's results confirmed that the NTF2 expressions were significantly increased in HNSCC tissue when compared with normal tissue. In addition, the high expression levels of NTF2 were found to be associated with poor prognoses, which was confirmed via the IHC validations of HNSCC samples with survival data. The results of functional enrichment analysis showed that the NTF2 was associated with epithelial cell growth, skin differentiation, keratosis, and estrogen metabolism. Furthermore, the expressions of NTF2 were determined to be negatively involved with immune infiltrations and correlated with immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) responses following various ICB therapy strategies. The results of the CCK-8 assay and wound-healing assay confirmed the NTF2's promoting effects on the proliferation and migration of tumor cells.

Conclusions: This study defined a novel prognostic model associated with the expressions of NTF2, which was shown to be independently related to the OS of HNSCC. It was concluded in this study that NTF2 might be a potential diagnostic and prognostic biomarker for HNSCC.

Keywords: HNSCC; NTF2; immune checkpoint; immune infiltration; prognostic biomarker.