MAPKAPK2 (MK2) inhibition mediates radiation-induced inflammatory cytokine production and tumor growth in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Kiersten L. Berggren, Sebastian Restrepo Cruz, Michael D. Hixon, Andrew T. Cowan, Stephen B. Keysar, Stephanie Craig, Jacqueline James, Marc Barry, Michelle A. Ozbun, Antonio Jimeno, Dennis J. McCance, Ellen J. Beswick, Gregory N. Gan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Radiation therapy (RT) is a cornerstone of treatment in the management of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC), yet treatment failure and disease recurrence are common. The p38/MK2 pathway is activated in response to cellular stressors, including radiation, and promotes tumor inflammation in a variety of cancers. We investigated MK2 pathway activation in HNSCC and the interaction of MK2 and RT in vitro and in vivo. We used a combination of an oropharyngeal SCC tissue microarray, HNSCC cell lines, and patient-derived xenograft (PDX) tumor models to study the effect of RT on MK2 pathway activation and to determine how inhibition of MK2 by pharmacologic (PF-3644022) and genetic (siRNA) methods impacts tumor growth. We show that high phosphorylated MK2 (p-MK2) levels are associated with worsened disease-specific survival in p16-negative HNSCC patients. RT increased p-MK2 in both p16-positive, HPV-positive and p16-negative, HPV-negative HNSCC cell lines. Pharmacologic inhibition or gene silencing of MK2 in vitro abrogated RT-induced increases in p-MK2; inflammatory cytokine expression and expression of the downstream MK2 target, heat shock protein 27 (HSP27); and markers of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. Mouse PDX models treated with a combination of RT and MK2 inhibitor experienced decreased tumor growth and increased survival. Our results suggest that MK2 is a potential prognostic biomarker for head and neck cancer and that MK2 pathway activation can mediate radiation resistance in HNSCC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7329-7341
Number of pages13
Issue number48
StatePublished - Nov 28 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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