Implication of the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL in head and neck cancer progression

Anne von Mässenhausen, Johannes Brägelmann, Hannah Billig, Britta Thewes, Angela Queisser, Wenzel Vogel, Glen Kristiansen, Andreas Schröck, Friedrich Bootz, Peter Brossart, Jutta Kirfel, Sven Perner*

*Corresponding author for this work
9 Citations (Scopus)


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) remains a clinical challenge and identification of novel therapeutic targets is necessary. The receptor tyrosine kinase AXL has been implicated in several tumor entities and a selective AXL small molecule inhibitor (BGB324) is currently being tested in clinical trials for patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer or acute myeloid leukemia. Our study investigates AXL expression during HNSCC progression and its use as a potential therapeutic target in HNSCC. AXL protein expression was determined in a HNSCC cohort (n = 364) using immunohistochemical staining. For functional validation, AXL was either overexpressed or inhibited with BGB324 in HNSCC cell lines to assess proliferation, migration and invasion. We found AXL protein expression increasing during tumor progression with highest expression levels in recurrent tumors. In HNSCC cell lines in vitro, AXL overexpression increased migration as well as invasion. Both properties could be reduced through treatment with BGB324. In contrast, proliferation was neither affected by AXL overexpression nor by inhibition with BGB324. Our patient-derived data and in vitro results show that, in HNSCC, AXL is important for the progression to more advanced tumor stages. Moreover, they suggest that AXL could be a target for precision medicine approaches in this dismal tumor entity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2017


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