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Open Access Research article

Use of NQO1 status as a selective biomarker for oesophageal squamous cell carcinomas with greater sensitivity to 17-AAG

Katie E Hadley and Denver T Hendricks*

Author Affiliations

Division of Medical Biochemistry, Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Anzio Road, Observatory, Cape Town 7925, South Africa

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:334  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-334

Published: 15 May 2014



Oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is a major health burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, and novel chemotherapies are urgently required to combat this disease. The heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) inhibitor 17-N-allylamino-17-demethoxygeldanamycin (17-AAG) has previously been proposed as a possible candidate drug. NADPH quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) is known to increase the potency of 17-AAG, therefore we investigated the effects of 17-AAG in OSCC cell lines in the context of their NQO1 status.


We used MTT assays to compare the sensitivity of a panel of OSCC cell lines to 17-AAG. Western blotting, and RT-PCR were used to investigate NQO1 protein and mRNA levels, while an RFLP approach was used to investigate the NQO1 C609T SNP.


Expression of NQO1 markedly increased sensitivity to 17-AAG in the OSCC cell lines, while normal fibroblasts, which expressed HSP90 at much lower levels, were more resistant to 17-AAG. In isolation, neither the C609T SNP, nor NQO1 mRNA levels was an accurate predictor of NQO1 protein levels.


Since NQO1 greatly enhances the anti-cancer effects of 17-AAG, this could be used as a selective marker for patients that would benefit most from 17-AAG chemotherapy at low doses. Testing for the presence of the C609T SNP in both alleles could be used as a screen to exclude potentially poor responders to 17-AAG treatment at low dosages.