Purpose: The clinical success of targeted therapies such as cetuximab and radiotherapy (RT) is hampered by the low response rates and development of therapeutic resistance. In the current study, we investigated the involvement of EphB4-ephrin-B2 protumorigenic signaling in mediating resistance to EGFR inhibition and RT in head and neck cancers.Experimental Design: We used patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and HNSCC cell lines to test our hypothesis. Tumor tissues were subjected to PhosphoRTK array, and Western blotting to detect changes in EphB4-ephrin-B2 targets. mRNA sequencing and microarray data analysis were performed on PDX tumors and HNSCC cell lines, respectively, to determine differences in gene expression of molecules involved in tumor cell growth, proliferation, and survival pathways. Effects on cell growth were determined by MTT assay on HNSCC cells downregulated for EphB4/ephrin-B2 expression, with and without EGFR inhibitor and radiation.Results: Our data from locally advanced HNSCC patients treated with standard-of-care definitive chemo-RT show elevated EphB4 and ephrin-B2 levels after failure of treatment. We observed significant response toward cetuximab and RT following EphB4-ephrin-B2 inhibition, resulting in improved survival in tumor-bearing mice. Tumor growth inhibition was accompanied by a decrease in the levels of proliferation and prosurvival molecules and increased apoptosis.Conclusions: Our findings underscore the importance of adopting rational drug combinations to enhance therapeutic effect. Our study documenting enhanced response of HNSCC to cetuximab-RT with EphB4-ephrin-B2 blockade has the potential to translate into the clinic to benefit this patient population. Clin Cancer Res; 24(18); 4539-50. ©2018 AACR.
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