Complex CTCs in Metastatic HNSCC: Gene Expression Analysis

June, 06, 2024 | Head & Neck Cancer


  • The study aimed to characterize dysregulated signaling pathways of HNSCC via single-cell molecular analysis of CTCs.
  • The study Identified 5 dysregulated signaling pathways in CTCs to develop biomarker panels for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma screening.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) imposes a significant global burden and is characterized by poor survival rates. Despite numerous trials exploring new treatment modalities to improve disease control, the 5-year survival rate remains low at only 60%. The progression of most cancer malignancies to a fatal phase is often due to the metastatic activity of treatment-resistant cancer cells, which is one of the most significant obstacles in developing effective cancer treatments. However, the molecular profiles of these cancer cells have not been thoroughly studied.

Andres Stucky and the team aimed to identify dysregulated signaling pathways in HNSCC associated with circulating tumor cells through single-cell molecular characterization.

In this study, researchers examined in-situ HNSCC tumors and subsequently tracked the downstream circulating tumor cells (CTCs). They used surrogate biomarkers to detect metastasis, a method established in other cancers but not yet fully integrated into HNSCC treatment algorithms.

The study revealed that patients with metastatic HNSCC possess complex CTCs identifiable through gene expression and mutational gene profiling obtained via single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNASeq). This profiling confirmed the molecular pathways inherent in these CTCs. To enhance the reliability of these findings, they cross-validated the molecular profiles with results from previously published studies.

The findings identified 5 dysregulated signaling pathways in CTCs, which were used to develop biomarker panels for screening in-situ HNSCC tumors.

Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health, CHOC Children’s—UC Irvine Child Health Research Awards, CHOC-UCI Child Health Research grant and NIH/NIDCR K23 DE030250.


Stucky A, Viet CT, Aouizerat BE, et al. (2024). “Single-Cell Molecular Profiling of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma Reveals Five Dysregulated Signaling Pathways Associated With Circulating Tumor Cells.” Cancer Control. 2024 Jan-Dec;31:10732748241251571. doi: 10.1177/10732748241251571. PMID: 38869038.

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