Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) are epithelial malignancies with 5-year overall survival rates of approximately 40–50%. Emerging evidence indicates that a small population of cells in HNSCC patients, named cancer stem cells (CSCs), play vital roles in the processes of tumor initiation, progression, metastasis, immune evasion, chemo-/radioresistance, and recur-rence. The acquisition of stem-like properties of cancer cells further provides cellular plasticity for stress adaptation and contributes to therapeutic resistance, resulting in a worse clinical outcome. Thus, targeting cancer stemness is fundamental for cancer treatment. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are known to regulate stem cell features in the development and tissue regeneration through a miRNA– target interactive network. In HNSCCs, miRNAs act as tumor suppressors and/or oncogenes to modulate cancer stemness and therapeutic efficacy by regulating the CSC-specific tumor microen-vironment (TME) and signaling pathways, such as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), Wnt/β-catenin signaling, and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) or insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF1R) signaling pathways. Owing to a deeper understanding of disease-relevant miR-NAs and advances in in vivo delivery systems, the administration of miRNA-based therapeutics is feasible and safe in humans, with encouraging efficacy results in early-phase clinical trials. In this review, we summarize the present findings to better understand the mechanical actions of miRNAs in maintaining CSCs and acquiring the stem-like features of cancer cells during HNSCC pathogenesis.
- Cancer stem cell
- Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma