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Radiotherapy (RT) plus the anti-EGFR monoclonal antibody Cetuximab (CTX) is an effective combination therapy for a subset of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients. However, predictive markers of efficacy are missing, resulting in many patients treated with disappointing results and unnecessary toxicities. Here, we report that activation of EGFR upregulates miR-9 expression, which sustains the aggressiveness of HNSCC cells and protects from RT-induced cell death. Mechanistically, by targeting KLF5, miR-9 regulates the expression of the transcription factor Sp1 that, in turn, stimulates tumor growth and confers resistance to RT+CTX in vitro and in vivo. Intriguingly, high miR-9 levels have no effect on the sensitivity of HNSCC cells to cisplatin. In primary HNSCC, miR-9 expression correlated with Sp1 mRNA levels and high miR-9 expression predicted poor prognosis in patients treated with RT+CTX. Overall, we have discovered a new signaling axis linking EGFR activation to Sp1 expression that dictates the response to combination treatments in HNSCC. We propose that miR-9 may represent a valuable biomarker to select which HNSCC patients might benefit from RT+CTX therapy. © 2021 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.


Francesca Citron, Ilenia Segatto, Lorena Musco, Ilenia Pellarin, Gian Luca Rampioni Vinciguerra, Giovanni Franchin, Giuseppe Fanetti, Francesco Miccichè, Vittorio Giacomarra, Valentina Lupato, Andrea Favero, Isabella Concina, Sanjana Srinivasan, Michele Avanzo, Isabella Castiglioni, Luigi Barzan, Sandro Sulfaro, Gianluigi Petrone, Andrea Viale, Giulio F Draetta, Andrea Vecchione, Barbara Belletti, Gustavo Baldassarre. miR-9 modulates and predicts the response to radiotherapy and EGFR inhibition in HNSCC. EMBO molecular medicine. 2021 Jul 07;13(7):e12872

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PMID: 34062049

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