The phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) pathway has widely been considered as a potential therapeutic target for head and neck cancer (HNC); however, the application of PI3K inhibitors is often overshadowed by the induction of drug resistance with unknown mechanisms. In this study, PII3K inhibitor resistant cancer cells were developed by prolonged culturing of cell lines with BEZ235, a dual PI3K and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor. The drug resistant HNC cells showed higher IC50 of the proliferation to inhibitors specifically targeting PI3K and/or mTOR, as compared to their parental cells. These cells also showed profound resistance to drugs of other classes. Molecular analysis revealed persistent activation of phosphorylated AKT at threonine 308 in the drug resistant cells and increased expression of markers for tumor-initiating cells. Interestingly, increased intra-cellular ROS levels were observed in the drug resistant cells. Among anti-oxidant molecules, the expression of SOD2 was increased and was associated with the ALDH-positive tumor-initiating cell features. Co-incubation of SOD inhibitors and BEZ235 decreased the stemness feature of the cells in vitro, as shown by results of the spheroid formation assay. In conclusion, dysregulation of SOD2 might contribute to the profound resistance to PI3K inhibitors and the other drugs in HNC cells.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes