Drug Vulnerabilities and Disease Prognosis Linked to the Stem Cell-Like Gene Expression Program Triggered by the RHO GTPase Activator VAV2 in Hyperplastic Keratinocytes and Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2020 Sep 3;12(9):E2498. doi: 10.3390/cancers12092498.


We have recently shown that VAV2, a guanosine nucleotide exchange factor that catalyzes the stimulation step of RHO GTPases, is involved in a stem cell-like (SCL) regenerative proliferation program that is important for the development and subsequent maintenance of the tumorigenesis of both cutaneous (cSCC) and head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (hnSCC). In line with this, we have observed that the levels of the VAV2 mRNA and VAV2-regulated gene signatures are associated with poor prognosis in the case of human papillomavirus-negative hnSCC patients. These results suggest that the SCL program elicited by VAV2 in those cells can harbor therapeutically actionable downstream targets. We have addressed this issue using a combination of both in silico and wet-lab approaches. Here, we show that the VAV2-regulated SCL program does harbor a number of cell cycle- and signaling-related kinases that are essential for the viability of undifferentiated keratinocytes and hnSCC patient-derived cells endowed with high levels of VAV2 activity. Our results also show that the VAV2-regulated SCL gene signature is associated with poor hnSCC patient prognosis. Collectively, these data underscore the critical role of this VAV2-regulated SCL program for the viability of both preneoplastic and fully transformed keratinocytes.