Mcl-1 is an important therapeutic target for oral squamous cell carcinomas.

PMID 26009874


Oral and oropharyngeal cancers are the sixth most common cancers worldwide. Despite intensive investigation, oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCC) represent a clinical challenge resulting in significant morbidity and mortality. Resistance to cell death is common in OSCC and is often mediated by the Bcl-2 family proteins. Among all anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members, Mcl-1 functions as a major survival factor, particularly in solid cancers. Despite the confirmed importance of Mcl-1 in several neoplasms, the role of Mcl-1 in OSCC survival has yet to be explored. In this study, we found that knocking down Mcl-1 sensitized OSCC cells to ABT-737, which binds to Bcl-2/Bcl-xL but not Mcl-1. We report for the first time that a BH3 mimetic, Sabutoclax, which functions as an inhibitor of all anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins, induced cancer-specific cell death in an Mcl-1-dependent manner through both apoptosis and toxic mitophagy. In vivo studies demonstrated that Sabutoclax alone decreased tumor growth in a carcinogen-induced tongue OSCC mouse model. In a combination regimen, Sabutoclax and COX-2 inhibitor, Celecoxib, synergistically inhibited the growth of OSCC in vitro and also significantly reduced OSCC tumor growth in vivo. Overall, these results identify Mcl-1 as a therapeutic prospective target in OSCC.