Major causes of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)-related deaths are cervical node and distant metastasis. We previously demonstrated that overexpression of the DNA double-strand break repair protein Nijmegen breakage syndrome 1 (NBS1) is a prognostic marker of advanced HNSCCs. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) was demonstrated to be the major mechanism responsible for mediating invasiveness and metastasis of late-stage cancers. We therefore investigated the role of NBS1 overexpression in mediating EMT and metastasis. NBS1 overexpression was associated with metastasis of HNSCC patients using tissue microarray-immunohistochemistry approach. Induction of EMT was observed in an NBS1-overexpressing HNSCC cell line (FADUNBS), whereas short-interference RNA (siRNA)-mediated repression of endogenous NBS1 reversed the shift of EMT markers. Increased migration/invasiveness of FADUNBS was shown by in vitro and in vivo assays. NBS1 overexpression upregulated the expression of an EMT regulator Snail and its downstream target matrix metalloproteinase-2. EMT phenotypes and increased migration/invasiveness of FADUNBS cells were reversed by siRNA-mediated repression of Snail expression or a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-specific inhibitor. In HNSCC samples, co-expression of NBS1/Snail in primary tumors correlated with metastasis and the worst prognosis. These results indicate that NBS1 overexpression induces EMT through the upregulation of Snail expression, and co-expression of NBS1/Snail predicts metastasis in HNSCCs.
- Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
- Head and neck cancer