HOXB7 acts as an oncogenic biomarker in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

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Background: The homeobox gene Homeobox B7 (HOXB7) is overexpressed across a range of cancers and promotes tumorigenesis through varying effects on proliferation, survival, migration and invasion. However, its expression pattern and oncogenic role of HOXB7 in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) remain largely unexplored. Here, we aimed to explore the expression pattern of HOXB7, its clinical significance as well as functional roles in HNSCC. Methods: HOXB7 mRNA expression in HNSCC was determined by data mining and analyses from TCGA (The Cancer Genome Atlas) and GEO (Gene Expression Omnibus) datasets. The protein abundance of HOXB7 was measured by immunohistochemistry in 119 primary HNSCC samples and associations between its expression and clinicopathological parameters and patient survival were evaluated. The pro-tumorigenic roles of HOXB7 in HNSCC were further delineated in vitro by loss-of-function assay. And a xenograft tumor model was established in nude mice to assess the role of HOXB7 in tumor growth. Connectivity Map (CMap) analysis was performed to identify bioactive small molecules which might be potential inhibitors for HOXB7. Results: Bioinformatics analyses showed that HOXB7 mRNA was significantly overexpressed in 8 independent HNSCC datasets from TCGA and GEO databases. HOXB7 protein was markedly upregulated in HNSCC samples as compared to normal counterparts and its overexpression significantly associated with high pathological grade, advanced clinical stage, cervical node metastasis (P = 0.0195, 0.0152, 0.0300) and reduced overall and disease-free survival (P = 0.0014, 0.0007). Univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses further revealed HOXB7 as an independent prognostic factor for patients’ overall survival. Moreover, HOXB7 knockdown significantly inhibited cell proliferation, migration and invasion and induced cell apoptosis in HNSCC cells, and resulted in compromised tumour growth in vivo. Furthermore, CMap (Connectivity map) analysis has identified three potential bioactive small molecule inhibitors (NU-1025, thiamine, vinburnine) for HOXB7 targeted therapy in HNSCC. Conclusions: Our findings revealed that overexpression of HOXB7 was associates with tumour aggressiveness and unfavourable prognosis by serving a novel prognostic biomarker in HNSCC. Moreover, HOXB7 might be involved in the development and progression of HNSCC as an oncogene, and thereby might be a potential therapeutic target for HNSCC.




Wu, X., Li, J., Yan, T., Ke, X., Li, X., Zhu, Y., … Li, Z. (2021). HOXB7 acts as an oncogenic biomarker in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Cancer Cell International, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12935-021-02093-6

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