Research Papers:

HPV-associated differential regulation of tumor metabolism in oropharyngeal head and neck cancer

Young-Suk Jung, Abdo J. Najy, Wei Huang, Seema Sethi, Michael Snyder, Wael Sakr, Gregory Dyson, Maik Hüttemann, Icksoo Lee, Rouba Ali-Fehmi, Silvia Franceschi, Linda Struijk, Harold E. Kim, Ikuko Kato and Hyeong-Reh Choi Kim _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:51530-51541. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.17887

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Young-Suk Jung1,7,*, Abdo J. Najy1,*, Wei Huang1, Seema Sethi1, Michael Snyder2,3, Wael Sakr1, Gregory Dyson2, Maik Hüttemann4, Icksoo Lee4,8, Rouba Ali-Fehmi1, Silvia Franceschi5, Linda Struijk6, Harold E. Kim2,3, Ikuko Kato2,1 and Hyeong-Reh Choi Kim1

1Department of Pathology, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI, USA

2Department of Oncology, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI, USA

3Division of Radiation Oncology, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI, USA

4Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI, USA

5International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France

6DDL Diagnostic Laboratory, Rijswijk, The Netherlands

7Current Address: Pusan National University College of Pharmacy, Geumjeong-gu, Busan, Republic of Korea

8Current Address: College of Medicine, Dankook University, Cheonan-si, Chungcheongnam-do, Republic of Korea

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Hyeong-Reh Choi Kim, email: [email protected]

Keywords: head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, human papillomavirus, radiation, glucose metabolism, mitochondrial respiration

Received: November 04, 2016    Accepted: April 05, 2017    Published: May 16, 2017


HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer patients experience significantly lower locoregional recurrence and higher overall survival in comparison with HPV-negative patients, especially among those who received radiation therapy. The goal of the present study is to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the differential radiation sensitivity between HPV-negative and HPV-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Here, we show that HPV-negative HNSCC cells exhibit increased glucose metabolism as evidenced by increased production of lactate, while HPV-positive HNSCC cells effectively utilize mitochondrial respiration as evidenced by increased oxygen consumption. HPV-negative cells express HIF1α and its downstream mediators of glucose metabolism such as hexokinase II (HKII) and carbonic anhydrase IX (CAIX) at higher levels, while the expression level of cytochrome c oxidase (COX) was noticeably higher in HPV-positive HNSCC. In addition, the expression levels of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinases (PDKs), which inhibit pyruvate dehydrogenase activity, thereby preventing entry of pyruvate into the mitochondrial tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, were much higher in HPV-negative HNSCC compared to those in HPV-positive cells. Importantly, a PDK inhibitor, dichloroacetate, effectively sensitized HPV-negative cells to irradiation. Lastly, we found positive interactions between tonsil location and HPV positivity for COX intensity and COX/HKII index ratio as determined by immunohistochemical analysis. Overall survival of patients with HNSCC at the tonsil was significantly improved with an increased COX expression. Taken together, the present study provides molecular insights into the mechanistic basis for the differential responses to radiotherapy between HPV-driven vs. spontaneous or chemically induced oropharyngeal cancer.

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