Despite recent improvements in treatment for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), half of all patients with a regional or advanced disease will die within 5 years from diagnosis. Therefore, identification of mechanisms driving the aggressive behavior of HNSCC is of utmost importance. Because p120-catenin (CTNND1/P120CTN) downregulation and PIK3CA mutations are commonly found in HNSCC, the objective of this study was to identify their impact on fundamental processes of metastasis, specifically, migration and invasion. Furthermore, this study aimed to identify the key effector proteins regulated by P120CTN downregulation and PIK3CA mutations. Studies using oral keratinocytes demonstrated that P120CTN downregulation and PIK3CA mutations increased migration and invasion. In addition, P120CTN downregulation and PIK3CA mutations resulted in elevated matrix metallopeptidase 1 (MMP1) levels. Inhibition of MMP1 resulted in decreased invasion, suggesting that MMP1 plays a critical role in HNSCC invasion. Moreover, analysis of HNSCC patient specimens from The Cancer Genome Atlas confirmed these findings. Tumors with low P120CTN and PI3K pathway mutations have higher levels of MMP1 compared to tumors with high P120CTN and no PI3K pathway mutations. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that P120CTN downregulation and PIK3CA mutations promote MMP1-driven invasion, providing a potential novel target for limiting metastasis in HNSCC.
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