Role of neurofilament light polypeptide in head and neck cancer chemoresistance

Baishen Chen, Ju Chen, Michael G. House, Kevin J. Cullen, Kenneth P. Nephew, Zhongmin Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Resistance to cisplatin-based chemotherapy is responsible for therapeutic failure of many common human cancers including cancer of head and neck (HNC). Mechanisms underlying cisplatin resistance remain unclear. In this study, we identified neurofilament light polypeptide (NEFL) as a novel hypermethylated gene associated with resistance to cisplatin-based chemotherapy in HNC. Analysis of 14 HNC cell lines revealed that downregulation of NEFL expression significantly correlated with increased resistance to cisplatin. Hypermethylation of NEFL promoter CpG islands was observed in cell lines as examined by bisulfite DNA sequencing and methylation-specific PCR (MSP) and tightly correlated with reduced NEFL mRNA and protein expression. Furthermore, in patient samples with HNC (n = 51) analyzed by quantitative MSP, NEFL promoter hypermethylation was associated with resistance to cisplatin-based chemotherapy [relative risk (RR), 3.045; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.459-6.355; P = 0.007] and predicted diminished overall and disease-free survival for patients treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Knockdown of NEFL by siRNA in the highly cisplatin-sensitive cell line PCI13 increased (P < 0.01) resistance to cisplatin. In cisplatin-resistant O11 and SCC25cp cells, restored expression of NEFL significantly increased sensitivity to the drug. Furthermore, NEFL physically associated with tuberous sclerosis complex 1 (TSC1), a known inhibitor of the mTOR pathway, and NEFL downregulation led to functional activation of mTOR pathway and consequentially conferred cisplatin resistance. This is the first study to show a role for NEFL in HNC chemoresistance. Our findings suggest that NEFL methylation is a novel mechanism for HNC chemoresistance and may represent a candidate biomarker predictive of chemotherapeutic response and survival in patients with HNC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-315
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Cancer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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