The transcriptional repressor Delta EF1 controls resistance to the EGFR inhibitor erlotinib in human HNSCC lines

Yasmine Haddad, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) overexpression occurs in about 90% of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) cases. Aberrant EGFR signaling has been implicated in the malignant features of HNSCC. Thus, EGFR appears to be a logical therapeutic target with increased tumor specificity for the treatment of HNSCC. Erlotinib, a small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor, specifically inhibits aberrant EGFR signaling in HNSCC. Only a minority of HNSCC patients were able to derive a substantial clinical benefit from erlotinib. This dissertation identifies Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) as the biological marker that distinguishes EGFR-dependent (erlotinib-sensitive) tumors from the EGFR-independent (erlotinib-resistant) tumors. This will allow us to prospectively identify the patients who are most likely to benefit from EGFR-directed therapy. More importantly, our data identifies the transcriptional repressor DeltaEF1 as the mesenchymal marker that controls EMT phenotype and resistance to erlotinib in human HNSCC lines. si-RNA mediated knockdown of DeltaEF1 in the erlotinib-resistant lines resulted in reversal of the mesenchymal phenotype to an epithelial phenotype and significant increase in sensitivity to erlotinib. DeltaEF1 represses the expression of the epithelial markers by recruiting HDACs to chromatin. This observation allows us to translate our findings into clinical application. To test whether the transcriptional repression by DeltaEF1 underlines the mechanism responsible for erlotinib resistance, erlotinib-resistant lines were treated with an HDAC inhibitor (SAHA) followed by erlotinib. This resulted in a synergistic effect and substantial increase in sensitivity to erlotinib in the resistant cell lines. Thus, combining an HDAC inhibitor with erlotinib represents a novel promising pharmacologic strategy for reversing resistance to erlotinib in HNSCC patients.

Subject Area

Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Haddad, Yasmine, "The transcriptional repressor Delta EF1 controls resistance to the EGFR inhibitor erlotinib in human HNSCC lines" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3367966.