, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 35-45

Tumor cell invasion and survival in head and neck cancer

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Abstract

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the primary tumor type in head and neck cancer. Typically, these tumor cells show persistent invasion that frequently leads to local recurrence and distant lymphatic metastasis. The process of invasion involves concurrent infiltration and destruction of adjacent tissues. As with normal mucosal epithelium, SCC cells express receptors that mediate cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) adhesion (integrins) and cell-cell adhesion (cadherins). Both receptor families represent important signaling devices that are capable of promoting survival and proliferation. Recent results indicate that integrins and cadherins cooperate to regulate invasive behavior. During SCC invasion, cells actively migrate through the surrounding ECM with the simultaneous remodeling of their intercellular adhesions. During invasion, integrin receptor engagement with specific ECM ligands along with concurrent remodeling of cadherin adhesions induces changes in the cytoskeleton though modulation of the activities of Rho family members. Tumor development and progression of SCC proceeds with the generation of variant cells with potential alterations in expression of adhesion receptors, and their associated signaling pathways lead to a highly invasive and metastatic phenotype. Understanding the molecular events that define this subset of invasive cells will facilitate the development of new treatment strategies.