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Schoetz, Ulrike; Klein, Diana; Hess, Julia; Shnayien, Seyd; Spoerl, Steffen; Orth, Michael; Mutlu, Samet; Hennel, Roman; Sieber, Anja; Ganswindt, Ute; Luka, Benedikt; Thomsen, Andreas R.; Unger, Kristian; Jendrossek, Verena; Zitzelsberger, Horst; Blüthgen, Nils; Belka, Claus; Unkel, Steffen; Klinger, Bertram and Lauber, Kirsten ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8141-0452 (2021): Early senescence and production of senescence-associated cytokines are major determinants of radioresistance in head-and-neck squamous cell carcinoma. In: Cell death & disease, Vol. 12, 1162 [PDF, 5MB]


Resistance against radio(chemo)therapy-induced cell death is a major determinant of oncological treatment failure and remains a perpetual clinical challenge. The underlying mechanisms are manifold and demand for comprehensive, cancer entity- and subtype-specific examination. In the present study, resistance against radiotherapy was systematically assessed in a panel of human head-and-neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cell lines and xenotransplants derived thereof with the overarching aim to extract master regulators and potential candidates for mechanism-based pharmacological targeting. Clonogenic survival data were integrated with molecular and functional data on DNA damage repair and different cell fate decisions. A positive correlation between radioresistance and early induction of HNSCC cell senescence accompanied by NF-κB-dependent production of distinct senescence-associated cytokines, particularly ligands of the CXCR2 chemokine receptor, was identified. Time-lapse microscopy and medium transfer experiments disclosed the non-cell autonomous, paracrine nature of these mechanisms, and pharmacological interference with senescence-associated cytokine production by the NF-κB inhibitor metformin significantly improved radiotherapeutic performance in vitro and in vivo. With regard to clinical relevance, retrospective analyses of TCGA HNSCC data and an in-house HNSCC cohort revealed that elevated expression of CXCR2 and/or its ligands are associated with impaired treatment outcome. Collectively, our study identifies radiation-induced tumor cell senescence and the NF-κB-dependent production of distinct senescence-associated cytokines as critical drivers of radioresistance in HNSCC whose therapeutic targeting in the context of multi-modality treatment approaches should be further examined and may be of particular interest for the subgroup of patients with elevated expression of the CXCR2/ligand axis.

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