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Dermatology - Oncology

Quercetin Suppresses Drug-Resistant Spheres via the p38 MAPK–Hsp27 Apoptotic Pathway in Oral Cancer Cells
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Author: Su-Feng Chen et al.

by Su-Feng Chen, Shin Nieh, Shu-Wen Jao, Chia-Lin Liu, Chien-Hua Wu, Yun-Ching Chang, Chin-Yuh Yang, Yaoh-Shiang Lin


Treatment failure in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) leading to local recurrence(s) and metastases is mainly due to drug resistance. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are thought be responsible for the development of drug resistance. However, the correlations between CSCs, drug resistance, and new strategy against drug resistance in OSCC remain elusive.


A drug-resistant sphere (DRSP) model was generated by using a nonadhesive culture system to induce drug-resistant cells from SCC25 oral cancer cells. A comparative analysis was performed between the parent control cells and DRSPs with a related treatment strategy focusing on the expression of epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT)-associated markers, drug-resistance-related genes, and CSC properties in vitro, as well as tumorigenicity and the regimen for tumor regression in vivo.


Our data show the presence of a phenomenon of EMT with gradual cellular transition from an epithelioid to mesenchymal-like spheroid morphology during induction of drug resistance. The characterization of DRSPs revealed the upregulation of the drug-resistance-related genes ABCG2 and MDR-1 and of CSC-representative markers, suggesting that DRSPs have greater resistance to cisplatin (Cis) and stronger CSC properties compared with the control. Moreover, overexpression of phosphorylated heat-shock protein 27 (p-Hsp27) via the activation of p38 MAPK signaling was observed in DRSPs. Knockdown of Hsp27 decreased Cis resistance and induced apoptosis in DRSPs. Furthermore, an inhibitor of Hsp27, quercetin (Qu), suppressed p-Hsp27 expression, with alterations of the EMT signature, leading to the promotion of apoptosis in DRSPs. A xenographic study also confirmed the increase of tumorigenicity in DRSPs. The combination of Qu and Cis can reduce tumor growth and decrease drug resistance in OSCC.


The p38 MAPK–Hsp27 axis plays an important role in CSCs-mediated drug resistance in OSCC. Targeting this axis using Qu combined with Cis may be a treatment strategy to improve prognosis in patients with OSCC.