Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the 6th most common cancer worldwide and incidence rates are continuing to rise globally. HNSCC patient prognosis is closely related to the occurrence of tumor metastases, and collagen within the tumor microenvironment (TME) plays a key role in this process. Lysyl hydroxylase 2 (LH2), encoded by the Procollagen-Lysine,2-Oxoglutarate 5-Dioxygenase 2 (PLOD2) gene, catalyzes hydroxylation of telopeptidyl lysine (Lys) residues of fibrillar collagens which then undergo subsequent modifications to form stable intermolecular cross-links that change the biomechanical properties (i.e. quality) of the TME. While LH2-catalyzed collagen modification has been implicated in driving tumor progression and metastasis in diverse cancers, little is known about its role in HNSCC progression. Thus, using gain- and loss-of-function studies, we examined the effects of LH2 expression levels on collagen cross-linking and cell behavior in vitro and in vivo using a tractable bioluminescent imaging-based orthotopic xenograft model. We found that LH2 overexpression dramatically increases HNSCC cell migratory and invasive abilities in vitro and that LH2-driven changes in collagen cross-linking robustly induces metastasis in vivo. Specifically, the amount of LH2-mediated collagen cross-links increased significantly with PLOD2 overexpression, without affecting the total quantity of collagen cross-links. Conversely, LH2 knockdown significantly blunted HNSCC cells invasive capacity in vitro and metastatic potential in vivo. Thus, regardless of the total “quantity” of collagen crosslinks, it is the “quality” of these cross-links that is the key driver of HNSCC tumor metastatic dissemination. These data implicate LH2 as a key regulator of HNSCC tumor invasion and metastasis by modulating collagen cross-link quality and suggest that therapeutic strategies targeting LH2-mediated collagen cross-linking in the TME may be effective in controlling tumor progression and improving disease outcomes.
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.