Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) is the most common type of salivary gland malignancy. Advanced or high-grade MECs are refractory to chemotherapy, often leading to tumor recurrence/metastasis and abysmal ~35% 5-year survival. Causal links have been established between Epithelial Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) activation and poor outcome. Herein we investigated the therapeutic efficacy of EGFR inhibition against MEC using in vitro pre-clinical models.
Five human MEC cell lines were used in cell viability, cytotoxicity, apoptosis, cell cycle, 2D-clonogenicity, and 3D-spheroid formation assays following treatment with Erlotinib (EGFR inhibitor), SAHA (Histone Deacetylase inhibitor; HDAC) and CUDC-101 (dual EGFR-HDAC inhibitor). Effects on MEC cancer stem cells were evaluated using flow cytometry. Gene expression and pathway regulation were evaluated via qPCR and Western blot, respectively.
MEC cells enter a quiescent, non-proliferative yet rapidly reversible drug tolerant state upon EGFR inhibition. Despite robust suppression of MEC cell proliferation, no discernable apoptosis is detected. Combination of EGFR and HDAC inhibitors exhibits synergistic effects, exerting ~5-fold more potent cell cytotoxicity compared to HDAC or EGFR monotherapy. CUDC-101, a single molecule with dual EGFR-HDAC inhibitor moieties, exerts irreversible and potent cytotoxic activity against MEC cells and blunts MEC cancer stem-cell tumorigenicity.
MEC cells are intrinsically tolerant to EGFR inhibition. Combining EGFR and HDAC inhibitors exerts synergistic and potent cytotoxic effects, suggesting that EGFR inhibitors still hold significant promise against MEC. Future studies are needed to assess the applicability and efficacy of dual EGFR-HDAC inhibitors for the clinical management of MEC.