Molecular oncology

Upregulated interleukin-6 expression contributes to erlotinib resistance in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

PMID 25888065


Despite the role of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) development and progression, clinical trials involving EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) have yielded poor results in HNSCC patients. Mechanisms of acquired resistance to the EGFR TKI erlotinib was investigated by developing erlotinib-resistant HNSCC cell lines and comparing their gene expression profiles with their parental erlotinib-sensitive HNSCC cell lines using microarray analyses and subsequent pathway and network analyses. Erlotinib-resistant HNSCC cells displayed a significant upregulation in immune response and inflammatory pathways compared to parental cells. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) was one of thirteen genes that was significantly differentially expressed in all erlotinib-resistant HNSCC cell lines, which was validated using RT-PCR and ELISA. Blockade of IL-6 signaling using the IL-6 receptor antagonist tocilizumab, was able to overcome erlotinib-resistance in erlotinib-resistant SQ20B tumors inxa0vivo. Overall, erlotinib-resistant HNSCC cells display elevated IL-6 expression levels compared to erlotinib-sensitive HNSCC cells and blockade of the IL-6 signaling pathway may be an effective strategy to overcome resistance to erlotinib and possibly other EGFR TKIs for HNSCC therapy.