EGFR modulates complement activation in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is pivotal for growth of epithelial cells and is overexpressed in several epithelial cancers like head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). EGFR signalling is also involved in diverse innate immune functions in epithelia. We previously found a role for EGFR in modulating the complement system in skin, this prompted an investigation into EGFR role in complement modulation in HNSCC. Methods: We used patient derived HNSCC cell lines with varying sensitivities to EGFR inhibitors, and generated EGFR inhibition resistant cell lines to study the role of EGFR in modulating complement in HNSCC. Results: We found that HNSCC cell lines activate the complement system when incubated with human serum. This complement activation was increased in cell lines sensitive to EGFR inhibition following the use of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor Iressa. Sensitive cell line made resistant to EGFR-inhibitors displayed complement activation and a decrease in complement regulatory proteins even in the absence of EGFR-inhibitors. Complement activation did not cause lysis of HNSCC cells, and rather led to increased extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) phosphorylation in one cell line. Conclusion: These data indicate that EGFR has a complement modulatory role in HNSCC, and that a prolonged EGFR-inhibition treatment in sensitive cancer cells increases complement activation. This has implications in understanding the response to EGFR inhibitors, in which resistance and inflammatory skin lesions are two major causes for treatment cessation.


External organisations
  • University of Jordan
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Cancer and Oncology
  • Cell and Molecular Biology


  • Cancer microenvironment, Complement activation, Complement regulation, EGFR, HNSCC, Iressa, Tyrosine kinase inhibitor
Original languageEnglish
Article number121
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Feb 13
Publication categoryResearch