Transient chemotherapeutic response is a major obstacle to treating head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC). Histone methyltransferase G9a has recently been shown to be abundantly expressed in HNSCC, and is required to maintain the malignant phenotype. In this study, we found that high G9a expression is significantly associated with poor chemotherapeutic response and disease-free survival in HNSCC patients. Similarly, G9a expression and enzymatic activity were elevated in cisplatin-resistant HNSCC cells. Genetic or pharmacological inhibition of G9a sensitized the resistant cells to cisplatin, increasing cellular apoptosis. Mechanistic investigations indicated that G9a contributes to transcriptional activation of the glutamate-cysteine ligase catalytic subunit (GCLC), which results in upregulation of cellular glutathione (GSH) and drug resistance. Additionally, we observed a significant positive correlation between G9a and GCLC expression in tumors of HNSCC patients. Taken together, our findings provide evidence that G9a protects HNSCC cells against chemotherapy by increasing the synthesis of GSH, and imply G9a as a promising target for overcoming cisplatin resistance in HNSCC.
- Received August 27, 2016.
- Revision received January 25, 2017.
- Accepted February 20, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.