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Abstract

Many squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are characterized by high levels of EGFR and by overexpression of the ΔNp63α isoform. Here, we investigated the regulation of ΔNp63α expression upon EGFR activation and the role of the EGFR–ΔNp63α axis in proliferation of SCC tumor-initiating cells (TICs). SCC cell lines A-431, Cal-27, and SCC-25 treated with EGF showed a time-dependent increase in ΔNp63α expression at the protein and mRNA levels, which was blocked by the tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) Lapatinib. RNA interference experiments suggested the role of STAT3 in regulating ΔNp63α expression downstream of EGFR. Inactivation of EGFR by the monoclonal antibody Cetuximab and RNA interference against STAT3 or ΔNp63α impaired the TICs ability to grow under non-differentiating conditions. Radiation treatment, which triggers EGFR activation, induced ΔNp63α accumulation without affecting TICs proliferation, whereas the combination Cetuximab plus radiation significantly reduced TICs growth under non-differentiating conditions. Together, our findings provide evidence that ΔNp63α expression is regulated by EGFR activation through STAT3 and that the EGFR–ΔNp63α axis is crucial for proliferation of TICs present in SCCs. J. Cell. Physiol. 228: 871–878, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.