Chemopreventive targeted treatment of head and neck precancer by Wee1 inhibition

Anne M. van Harten, D. Vicky de Boer, Sanne R. Martens-de Kemp, Marijke Buijze, Sonja H. Ganzevles, Keith D. Hunter, C. René Leemans, Victor W. van Beusechem, Rob M.F. Wolthuis, Renée X. de Menezes, Ruud H. Brakenhoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


HPV-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) develop in precancerous changes in the mucosal lining of the upper-aerodigestive tract. These precancerous cells contain cancer-associated genomic changes and cause primary tumors and local relapses. Therapeutic strategies to eradicate these precancerous cells are very limited. Using functional genomic screens, we identified the therapeutic vulnerabilities of premalignant mucosal cells, which are shared with fully malignant HNSCC cells. We screened 319 previously identified tumor-lethal siRNAs on a panel of cancer and precancerous cell lines as well as primary fibroblasts. In total we identified 147 tumor-essential genes including 34 druggable candidates. Of these 34, 13 were also essential in premalignant cells. We investigated the variable molecular basis of the vulnerabilities in tumor and premalignant cell lines and found indications of collateral lethality. Wee1-like kinase (WEE1) was amongst the most promising targets for both tumor and precancerous cells. All four precancerous cell lines were highly sensitive to Wee1 inhibition by Adavosertib (AZD1775), while primary keratinocytes tolerated this inhibitor. Wee1 inhibition caused induction of DNA damage during S-phase followed by mitotic failure in (pre)cancer cells. In conclusion, we uncovered Wee1 inhibition as a promising chemopreventive strategy for precancerous cells, with comparable responses as fully transformed HNSCC cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2330
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Cite this