Platinum-containing drugs such as cisplatin and carboplatin are routinely used for the treatment of many solid tumors including squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). However, SCCHN resistance to platinum compounds is well documented. The resistance to platinum has been linked to the activity of divalent transporter ATP7B, which pumps platinum from the cytoplasm into lysosomes, decreasing its concentration in the cytoplasm. Several cancer models show increased expression of ATP7B; however, the reason for such an increase is not known. Here we show a strong positive correlation between mRNA levels of TMEM16A and ATP7B in human SCCHN tumors. TMEM16A overexpression and depletion in SCCHN cell lines caused parallel changes in the ATP7B mRNA levels. The ATP7B increase in TMEM16A-overexpressing cells was reversed by suppression of NADPH oxidase 2 (NOX2), by the antioxidant N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) and by copper chelation using cuprizone and bathocuproine sulphonate (BCS). Pretreatment with either chelator significantly increased cisplatin's sensitivity, particularly in the context of TMEM16A overexpression. We propose that increased oxidative stress in TMEM16A-overexpressing cells liberates the chelated copper in the cytoplasm, leading to the transcriptional activation of ATP7B expression. This, in turn, decreases the efficacy of platinum compounds by promoting their vesicular sequestration. We think that such a new explanation of the mechanism of SCCHN tumors’ platinum resistance identifies novel approach to treating these tumors.

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