MEK blockade overcomes the limited activity of palbociclib in head and neck cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Transl Oncol. 2020 Jul 23;13(11):100833. doi: 10.1016/j.tranon.2020.100833. Online ahead of print.


Head and neck cancer (HNC) is characterized with multiple aberrations in cell cycle pathways, including amplification of cyclin D1. Palbociclib (PAL), a cyclin-dependent kinase 4/6 (CDK4/6) inhibitor, has been reported to regulate cell cycle progression in HNC. However, recent studies have revealed the acquired resistance of certain cells to PAL through activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway. Therefore, we investigated

whether the inhibition of MEK/ERK pathway by trametinib (TRA) may overcome the limited efficacy of PAL in HNC. We evaluated the effect of PAL alone and in combination with TRA on the viability of HNC cells, and found that the combination treatment synergistically inhibited the proliferation of HNC cells. The combination treatment induced G0/G1 cell cycle arrest and apoptotic cell death. In particular, apoptosis mediated by the combination treatment was accompanied with an increase in caspase-3 activity and the number of TUNEL-positive apoptotic cells. These results were consistent with the decrease in cell cycle progression and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway activation. In a xenograft mouse model of HNC, PAL and TRA synergistically inhibited tumor growth and enhanced tumor cell apoptosis, consistent with the increase in the number of TUNEL-positive cells. The anti-proliferative effects were evident in tumor tissues subjected to the combination treatment as compared with those treated with single drug. Taken together, our study demonstrates that the combination of PAL and TRA exerts synergistic anticancer effects and inhibits cell cycle check points and MEK/ERK pathway in HNC, suggestive of their potential application for HNC treatment.