Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activation is a major cause of metastasis in many cancers, such as head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). However, whether the induction of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) mediates EGF-enhanced HNSCC metastasis remains unclear. Interestingly, we found that EGF induced COX-2 expression mainly in HNSCC. The tumor cell transformation induced by EGF was repressed by COX- 2 knockdown, and this repression was reversed by simultaneously treating the cells with EGF and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). The down-regulation of COX-2 expression or inhibition of COX-2 activity significantly blocked EGF enhancement of cell migration and invasion, but the addition of PGE2 compensated for this inhibitory effect in COX- 2-knockdown cells. COX-2 depletion inhibited EGF-induced matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, MMP-9, and fibronectin expression and Rac1/cdc42 activation. The inhibitory effect of COX-2 depletion on MMPs and the fibronectin/ Rac1/cdc42 axis were reversed by co-treatment with PGE2. Furthermore, depletion of fibronectin impeded the COX-2-enhanced binding of HNSCC cells to endothelial cells and tumor cells metastatic seeding of the lungs. These results demonstrate that EGF-induced COX-2 expression enhances HNSCC metastasis via activation of the fibronectin signaling pathway. The inhibition of COX-2 expression and activation may be a potential strategy for the treatment of EGFR-mediated HNSCC metastasis.
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