, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 1-7
Date: 22 Jan 2013

miRNAs in head and neck cancer revisited

Abstract

Background

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the sixth most common cause of cancer mortality in the world and the 5th most commonly occurring cancer. Tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and human papilloma virus (HPV) infections have been associated with the occurrence of HNSCC. Despite advances that have been made in HNSCC treatment, smoking-associated HNSCC patients still exhibit a poor 5 year survival rate (30–50 %) and a concomitant poor quality of life. The major clinical challenge to date lies in the early detection of dysplastic lesions,which can progress to malignancy. In addition, there are currently no tools available to monitor HNSCC patients for early stages of local recurrences or distant metastases. In the recent past, micro-RNAs (miRNA) have been assessed for their role in cancer initiation and progression, including HNSCC. It is now well-established that deregulation of these single stranded, small non-coding, 19–25 nt RNAs can e.g. enhance the expression of oncogenes or subdue the expression of tumor suppressor genes. The aims of this review are three-fold: first to retrieve from the literature miRNAs that have specifically been associated with HNSCC, second to group these miRNAs into those regulating tumor initiation, progression and metastasis, and third to discern miRNAs related to smoking-associated HNSCC versus HPV-associated HNSCC development.

Conclusions

This review gives an overview on the miRNAs regulating the development of head and neck cancers. The ultimate establishment of miRNA expression profiles that are HNSCC specific, and miRNAs that orchestrate altered gene and protein expression levels in HNSCC, could pave the way for a better understanding of the mechanism underlying its pathogenesis and the development of novel, targeted therapies.