<p>Abstract</p> <p>Background</p> <p>Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin is the most aggressive form of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC), and is the single most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., with over one million new cases reported each year. Recent studies have revealed an oncogenic role of activated signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (Stat3) in many human tumors, especially in those of epithelial origin, including skin SCC. Stat3 is a mediator of numerous growth factor and cytokine signaling pathways, all of which activate it through phosphorylation of tyrosine 705.</p> <p>Results</p> <p>To further address the role of Stat3 in skin SCC tumorigenesis, we have analyzed a panel of human skin-derived cell lines ranging from normal human epidermal keratinocytes (NHEK), to non-tumorigenic transformed skin cells (HaCaT), to highly tumorigenic cells (SRB1-m7 and SRB12-p9) and observed a positive correlation between Stat3 phosphorylation and SCC malignancy. We next determined the role of Stat3 activity in cell proliferation and viability under serum-free culture conditions. This was accomplished by suppressing Stat3 activity in the SRB12-p9 cells through stable expression of a dominant negative acting form of Stat3β, which contains a tyrosine 705 to phenylalanine mutation (S3DN). The S3DN cells behaved similar to parental SRB12-p9 cells when cultured in optimal growth conditions, in the presence of 10% fetal calf serum. However, unlike the SRB12-p9 cells, S3DN cells underwent apoptotic cell death when cultured in serum-free medium (SFM). This was evidenced by multiple criteria, including accumulation of sub-G1 particles, induced PARP cleavage, and acquisition of the characteristic morphological changes associated with apoptosis.</p> <p>Conclusion</p> <p>This study provides direct evidence for a role for Stat3 in maintaining cell survival in the conditions of exogenous growth factor deprivation produced by culture in SFM. We also propose that delivery of the S3DN gene or protein to tumor cells could induce apoptosis and/or sensitize those cells to the apoptotic effects of cancer therapeutic agents, raising the possibility of using S3DN as an adjunct for treatment of skin SCC.</p
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