Although head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs), including tongue, vocal cord, and buccal cancers, are one of the most common cancers worldwide with a mortality rate of more than 40%, there have been no solid standard biomarkers for effectively diagnosing HNSCCs at early stages and no effective protocols available to support in vitro expansion of HNSCC cells. To establish a cell culture method to support in vitro self-renewal of HNSCC cells, patient-derived tumor was enzymatically digested, and the tongue cancer epithelial cells were seeded onto feeder cells with the Rho kinase inhibitor (Y-27632). Additionally, to test our hypothesis that free thiol groups in the cells, generated by a mild reduction of cell surface proteins using the reducing agent tris(2-carboxyethyl) phosphine hydrochloride (TCEP), would modulate cancer cell adhesion and migration, we assessed the expression levels of integrins, focal adhesion kinase (FAK), and phosphorylated FAK (pFAK) of tongue cancer epithelial cells cultured on both soft and rigid polyacrylamide (PAAm) hydrogel-based cell culture substrates. Patient-derived tongue cancer epithelial cells exhibited self-renewal ability and maintained cancerous phenotypes, with high expressions of P53, Ki67, E-cadherin, CD44, and AHDH1A1. Treatment with the reducing agent (TCEP) increased the degree of cell adhesion through the significantly upregulated integrin α5β1-mediated phosphorylation of FAK, resulting in inhibited single-cell and collective cell migration as well as invasion. Additionally, when these cells were cultured on stiff PAAm hydrogels mimicking the tumor microenvironment, the cells exhibited accelerated cell migration behaviors, compared to cells on soft hydrogels. These results highlight the synergetic contributions of feeder cells and Rho kinase inhibitor to support long-term self-renewal of tongue cancer patient-derived epithelial cells.

Citation Format: Joo Hyun Kim, Laurensia D. Anggradita, Sung Sik Hur, Jae Hong Park, Sang-Heon Kim, Myung Jin Ban, Yongsung Hwang. Phosphorylated focal adhesion kinase by mild reduction of cell surface proteins inhibits integrin α5β1-dependent patient- derived cancer cell migration and invasion [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2024; Part 1 (Regular Abstracts); 2024 Apr 5-10; San Diego, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2024;84(6_Suppl):Abstract nr 5409.