Open Access Open Badges Research article

Cell-line-specific stimulation of tumor cell aggressiveness by wound healing factors – a central role for STAT3

Lars Ekblad1*, Gustaf Lindgren2, Emma Persson3, Elisabeth Kjellén1 and Johan Wennerberg2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Oncology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

2 Department of Otorhinolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

3 Department of Radiation Sciences, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC Cancer 2013, 13:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-33

Published: 25 January 2013



Local recurrence is a major factor affecting survival after treatment for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). It is possible that the normal processes involved in wound healing after surgical removal of a primary tumor can boost the regrowth of residual cancer cells, thereby contributing to the recurrent growth. In this work, we collected human wound fluids and used them to investigate the effect of wound healing factors on HNSCC cell lines in vitro.


Wound fluids were collected from thyroidectomized patients diagnosed with benign disease and were included in assays of cell proliferation, migration, cell scattering, and invasion. The involvement of intracellular signaling pathways and membrane receptors were investigated by western blotting and the inclusion of specific inhibitors.


One out of four cell lines was greatly stimulated in proliferation, migration, cell scattering, and invasion by the addition of wound fluid as compared with addition of fetal bovine or human serum. These effects were accompanied by a sharp increase in activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3). Inhibition of STAT3 activation abolished the wound fluid response, showing that STAT3 plays an important role in the wound healing response. Several of the observed phenotypic changes were epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT)-like, but the appropriate changes were not seen in any of the EMT markers investigated. The involvement of c-Met or epidermal growth factor receptor family members was excluded, while the interleukin-6 receptor was found to be partly responsible for the activation of STAT3.


In conclusion, we found cell-line-specific effects of wound healing factors on HNSCC, setting the stage for therapy development and predictive opportunities.

Head and neck cancer; Local recurrence; Wound healing; Proliferation; Invasion; Migration; STAT3; IL-6; IL6R; Tocilizumab