Overexpression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is found in over 80% of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) and associated with poor clinical outcomes. EFGR selective tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) or antibodies have recently emerged as promising treatments for solid tumors, including HNSCC, though the response rate to these agents is low.p53upregulatedmodulator ofapoptosis (PUMA), a BH3-only Bcl-2 family protein, is required for apoptosis induced by p53 and various chemotherapeutic agents. In this study, we show that PUMA induction is correlated with EGFR-TKI sensitivity, and is mediated through the p53 family protein p73β and inhibition of the PI3K/AKT pathway. In some HNSCC cells, the gefitinib-induced degradation of oncogenic ΔNp63 seems to facilitate p73-mediatedPUMAtranscription. Inhibiting PUMA expression by small hairpin RNA (shRNA) impairs gefitinib-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, PUMA or BH3 mimetics sensitize HNSCC cells to gefitinib-induced apoptosis. Our results suggest that PUMA induction through p73 represents a new mechanism of EGFR inhibitor-induced apoptosis, and provide potential ways for enhancing and predicting the sensitivity to EGFR-targeted therapies in HNSCC.
Oncogene (2009) 28, 2348-2357; doi:10.1038/onc.2009.108; published online 4 May 2009