Theranostics 2018; 8(4):921-940. doi:10.7150/thno.22182

Research Paper

Cancer-associated Fibroblast-derived IL-6 Promotes Head and Neck Cancer Progression via the Osteopontin-NF-kappa B Signaling Pathway

Xing Qin1, Ming Yan1, Xu Wang1, Qin Xu1,2, Xiaoning Wang1, Xueqin Zhu1, Jianbo Shi1, Zhihui Li1, Jianjun Zhang1✉, Wantao Chen1,2✉

1. Department of Oral and Maxillofacial-Head & Neck Oncology, Ninth People's Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, 200011, PR China;
2. Shanghai Key Laboratory of Stomatology & Shanghai Research Institute of Stomatology; National Clinical Research Center of Stomatology, Shanghai, 200011, PR China.


Osteopontin (OPN), a chemokine-like protein, plays a crucial role in the proliferation and metastasis of various cancers. However, how tumor stroma modulates the expression of neoplastic OPN and the multifaceted roles of OPN in head and neck cancer (HNC) are unclear. In this study, we tried to investigate the bridging role of OPN between tumor stroma and cancer cells.

Methods: Immunohistochemical staining and quantitative real-time PCR were used to detect OPN expression in HNC tissues, and the correlations between OPN expression and clinicopathologic features were then analyzed. We used a co-culture assay to study the modulatory role of IL-6 on OPN expression and immunoprecipitation analysis was used to determine the endogenous interaction between OPN and integrin αvβ3. Furthermore, a xenograft assay was carried out to confirm the tumor-promoting role and the potential therapeutic value of OPN in HNC.

Results: We found that OPN was significantly up-regulated in HNCs, and the elevated OPN was correlated with poor prognosis. Moreover, we identified IL-6 secreted by cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) as the major upstream molecule that triggers the induction of neoplastic OPN. As such, during the interaction of fibroblasts and cancer cells, the increased neoplastic OPN induced by stromal IL-6 accelerated the growth, migration and invasion of cancer cells. More importantly, we also showed that soluble OPN could promote HNC progression via the integrin αvβ3-NF-kappa B pathway, and the combination of OPN and IL-6 had a better prognostic and diagnostic performance in HNC than either molecule alone.

Conclusion: Our study identified a novel modulatory role for OPN in HNC progression and further demonstrated that the combination of OPN and IL-6 might be a promising prognostic and diagnostic indicator as well as a potential cancer therapeutic target.

Keywords: IL-6, Osteopontin, NF-kappa B, Head and Neck Cancer, Cancer-associated fibroblasts.

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How to cite this article:
Qin X, Yan M, Wang X, Xu Q, Wang X, Zhu X, Shi J, Li Z, Zhang J, Chen W. Cancer-associated Fibroblast-derived IL-6 Promotes Head and Neck Cancer Progression via the Osteopontin-NF-kappa B Signaling Pathway. Theranostics 2018; 8(4):921-940. doi:10.7150/thno.22182. Available from