Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Physiology and Biophysics

First Advisor

Dr. Hisashi Harada

Second Advisor

Dr. Andrei Ivanov

Third Advisor

Dr. Srinivasa M Karnam


Head and neck cancer is the sixth leading type of cancer with 90 percent of head and neck cancer arising from squamous cell lining on the epithelium of the oral and nasal cavity, pharynx, and salivary gland. Even with tremendous achievements on chemotherapeutic drugs and therapies, the long-term prognosis of patients with advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has shown little improvement over the last three decades. Cisplatin is one of widely used chemotherapeutic drugs for multiple

cancers, including head and neck cancer, but the prolonged use of this drug is limited by its toxicity and by the development of resistance. To overcome these major roadblocks to improved prognosis requires mechanism-based therapeutic strategies to maximize the antitumor effect of drugs while limiting their toxicities. Cisplatin exerts anticancer effects via multiple mechanisms, yet its most prominent mode of action involves the generation of DNA lesions followed by the activation of the DNA damage response and the induction of BCL-2 family-dependent mitochondrial apoptosis. DNA damage activates a tumor suppressor p53 to induce apoptosis. One of its functions is to induce the expression of several pro-apoptotic proteins such as Noxa, which binds to an anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family protein, MCL-1 (myeloid leukemia cell-1) to inactivate its pro-survival function and induce apoptosis. We examined Noxa expression and apoptosis induced by cisplatin in p53-wild-type HN30 and HN31, p53-truncated and inactive HN4 and HN12, and p53-deleted HN22 and HN8 HNSCC cell lines. We found that Noxa was induced in HN30 and HN31 cells and down-regulation of Noxa by shRNA (short-hairpin RNA) decreased apoptosis, indicating Noxa contribution to cisplatin-induced apoptosis. Interestingly, cisplatin treatment induced Noxa and apoptosis even in p53-deleted HN22 and HN8 cells, suggesting the existence of the p53-independent pathways for the induction of Noxa. Based on these observations, we hypothesized that modulation of Noxa/MCL-1 axis could mimic cisplatin-induced cell death. We found that Noxa overexpression induced cell death in all cell lines tested regardless of p53 status. This finding could be applicable as a potential therapeutic strategy to treat head and neck cancer.


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