At the Crossroads of Molecular Biology and Immunology: Molecular Pathways for Immunological Targeting of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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Background: Recent advances in immunotherapy for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) have led to implementation of anti-programmed death receptor 1 (PD-1) immunotherapy to standard of care for recurrent/metastatic HNSCC. However, the majority of tumors do not respond to these therapies, indicating that these tumors are not immunogenic or other immunosuppressive mechanisms might be at play. Aim: Given their role in carcinogenesis as well as in immune modulation, we discuss the relation between the STAT3, PI3K/AKT/mTOR and Wnt signaling pathways to identify potential targets to empower the immune response against HNSCC. Results: We focused on three pathways. First, STAT3 is often overactivated in HNSCC and induces the secretion of immunosuppressive cytokines, thereby promoting recruitment of immune suppressive regulatory T cells and myeloid-derived suppressor cells to the tumor microenvironment (TME) while hampering the development of dendritic cells. Second, PI3K/AKT/mTOR mutational activation results in increased tumor proliferation but could also be important in HNSCC immune evasion due to the downregulation of components in the antigen-processing machinery. Third, canonical Wnt signaling is overactivated in >20% of HNSCC and could be an interesting pleotropic target since it is related to increased tumor cell proliferation and the development of an immunosuppressive HNSCC TME. Conclusion: The molecular pathology of HNSCC is complex and heterogeneous, varying between sites and disease etiology (i.e., HPV). The in HNSCC widely affected signaling pathways STAT3, PI3K/AKT/mTOR and Wnt are implicated in some of the very mechanisms underlying immune evasion of HNSCC, thereby representing promising targets to possibly facilitate immunotherapy response.

Original languageEnglish
Article number647980
Pages (from-to)647980
JournalFrontiers in oral health
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2021

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