Fibroblast growth factor receptor 3-mediated reactivation of ERK signaling promotes head and neck squamous cancer cell insensitivity to MEK inhibition

Myung Jin Ban, Hyung Kwon Byeon, Yeon Ju Yang, Sojung An, Jae Wook Kim, Ji Hoon Kim, Da Hee Kim, Jaemoon Yang, Hyunjung Kee, Yoon Woo Koh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has been a longstanding challenge for head and neck oncologists, and current treatments still have limited efficacy. ERK is aberrantly overexpressed and activated in HNSCC. Herein, we aimed to investigate the cause of the limited therapeutic effect of selumetinib, a selective inhibitor of MEK in HNSCC, as MEK/ERK reactivation inevitably occurs. We assessed the effects of combining selumetinib with fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 (FGFR3) inhibitor (PD173074) on tumor growth. Selumetinib transiently inhibited MAPK signaling and reactivated ERK signaling in HNSCC cells. Rebound in the ERK and Akt pathways in HNSCC cells was accompanied by increased FGFR3 signaling after selumetinib treatment. Feedback activation of FGFR3 was a result of autocrine secretion of the FGF2 ligand. The FGFR3 inhibitor PD173074 prevented MAPK rebound and sensitized the response of HNSCC cells to selumetinib. These results provided rational therapeutic strategies for clinical studies of this subtype of patients that show a poor prognosis with selumetinib. Our data provide a rationale for combining a MEK inhibitor with inhibitors of feedback activation of FGFR3 signaling in HNSCC cells. ERK rebound as a result of the upregulation of FGFR3 and the ligand FGF2 diminished the antitumor effects of selumetinib, which was overcome by combination treatment with the FGFR3 inhibitor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3816-3825
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (grant number: NRF-2017R1C1B5018124), awarded to Myung Jin Ban. This research was also supported by a grant of the Korea Health Technology R&D Project through the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI), funded by the Ministry of Health & Welfare, Republic of Korea (grant number: HI16C0179) awarded to Yoon Woo Koh.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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