Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Cancer Biology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Jeffrey Myers, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Garry E. Gallick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dihua Yu, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xiangwei Wu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Edward Yeh, M.D.


Squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck (SCCHN) is the tenth most common cancer in the world. Unfortunately, the survival of patients with SCCHN has not improved in the last 40 years. Therefore new targets for therapy are needed, and to this end we are studying signaling pathways activated by IL-6 which we have found stimulates cell migration and soft agar growth in SCCHN. Our data show that IL-6 increases TWIST expression in a transcription-independent mechanism in many SCCHN cell lines. Further investigation reveals TWIST can be phosphorylated upon IL-6 treatment. By computation prediction ( ), we found that TWIST has a putative phosphorylation site for casein kinase 2 (CK2) suggesting that this kinase could serve as a link between IL-6 stimulation and Twist stability. To test this hypothesis, we used a CK2 inhibitor and shRNA to CK2 and found that these interventions inhibited IL-6 stimulation of TWIST stability. In addition, mutation of the putative CK2 phosphorylation site (S18/S20A) in TWIST decreased the amount of phospho-ATP incorporated by TWIST in an in vitro kinase assay, and altered TWIST stability. In Boyd chamber migration assay and wound-healing assay, the CK2 inhibitor, DMAT, was found to decrease the motility of IL-6 stimulated SCCHN cells and over expression of either a wild-type or the hyperphosphorylated mimicking mutant S18/20D –Twist rather than the hypo-phosphorylated mimicking mutant S18/20A-Twist can promote SCCHN cell motility.To our knowledge, this is the first report to identify the importance of IL-6 stimulated CK2 phosphorylation of TWIST in SCCHN. As CK2 inhibitors are currently under phase I clinical trials, our findings indicate that CK2 may be a viable therapeutic target in SCCHN. Therefore, further pre-clinical studies of this inhibitor are underway.


Head and neck cancer, Twist, IL-6, caseine kinase 2, CK2

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