Identification of multidrug chemoresistant genes in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells
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Multidrug resistance renders treatment failure in a large proportion of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients that require multimodal therapy involving chemotherapy in conjunction with surgery and/or radiotherapy. Molecular events conferring chemoresistance remain unclear. Through transcriptome datamining, 28 genes were subjected to pharmacological and siRNA rescue functional assays on 12 strains of chemoresistant cell lines each against cisplatin, 5-fluorouracil (5FU), paclitaxel (PTX) and docetaxel (DTX). Ten multidrug chemoresistance genes (TOP2A, DNMT1, INHBA, CXCL8, NEK2, FOXO6, VIM, FOXM1B, NR3C1 and BIRC5) were identified. Of these, four genes (TOP2A, DNMT1, INHBA and NEK2) were upregulated in an HNSCC patient cohort (n = 221). Silencing NEK2 abrogated chemoresistance in all drug-resistant cell strains. INHBA and TOP2A were found to confer chemoresistance in majority of the drug-resistant cell strains whereas DNMT1 showed heterogeneous results. Pan-cancer Kaplan-Meier survival analysis on 21 human cancer types revealed significant prognostic values for INHBA and NEK2 in at least 16 cancer types. Drug library screens identified two compounds (Sirodesmin A and Carfilzomib) targeting both INHBA and NEK2 and re-sensitised cisplatin-resistant cells. We have provided the first evidence for NEK2 and INHBA in conferring chemoresistance in HNSCC cells and siRNA gene silencing of either gene abrogated multidrug chemoresistance. The two existing compounds could be repurposed to counteract cisplatin chemoresistance in HNSCC. This finding may lead to novel personalised biomarker-linked therapeutics that can prevent and/or abrogate chemoresistance in HNSCC and other tumour types with elevated NEK2 and INHBA expression. Further investigation is necessary to delineate their signalling mechanisms in tumour chemoresistance.