It is not understood why some head and neck squamous cell carcinomas, despite having identical morphology, demonstrate different tumor aggressiveness, including radioresistance. High levels of the free radical nitric oxide (NO) and increased expression of the NO-producing enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS) have been implicated in tumor progression. We previously adapted three human tongue cancer cell lines to high NO (HNO) levels by gradually exposing them to increasing concentrations of an NO donor; the HNO cells grew faster than their corresponding untreated ("parent") cells, despite being morphologically identical. Herein we initially characterize the HNO cells and compare the biological properties of the HNO and parent cells. HNO/parent cell line pairs were analyzed for cell cycle distribution, DNA damage, X-ray and ultraviolet radiation response, and expression of key cellular enzymes, including NOS, p53, glutathione S-transferase-pi (GST-pi), apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease-1 (APE1), and checkpoint kinases (Chk1, Chk2). While some of these properties were cell line-specific, the HNO cells typically exhibited properties associated with a more aggressive behavior profile than the parent cells (greater S-phase percentage, radioresistance, and elevated expression of GST-pi/APE1/Chk1/Chk2). To correlate these findings with conditions in primary tumors, we examined the NOS, GST-pi, and APE1 expression in human tongue squamous cell carcinomas. A majority of the clinical samples exhibited elevated expression levels of these enzymes. Together, the results herein suggest cancer cells exposed to HNO levels can develop resistance to free radicals by upregulating protective mechanisms, such as GST-pi and APE1. These upregulated defense mechanisms may contribute to their aggressive expression profile.
- Apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease (APE1)
- Checkpoint kinases
- Glutathione S-transferase (GST)
- Nitric oxide (NO)
- Nitric oxide synthase (NOS)
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue