As the epidermal growth factor receptor is expressed in up to 90% of all head and neck squamous cell carcinomas and initiates important signalling pathways in carcinogenesis, this receptor has emerged as a promising therapeutic target. Nevertheless, the challenge of drug resistance alongside treatment with epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors remains. New results from our research group provide evidence that the RAS-MAPK signalling pathway is still activated despite upstream epidermal growth factor receptor blocking by cetuximab, an epidermal growth factor receptor targeting monoclonal antibody. DUSP5, DUSP6, AURKB, HB-EGF, IL8 and the transcription factor AP-1 were among the genes identified by us as likely contributing to cetuximab resistance. These novel findings provide new insights in the underlying mechanisms of anti-epidermal growth factor receptor therapeutic resistance in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Furthermore, these observations can form a solid basis for further in vivo and clinical studies on this topic, making advances in the treatment of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.

(BELG J MED ONCOL 2015;9(2):74–6)