Schwann Cells Induce Phenotypic Changes in Oral Cancer Cells

Maria Daniela Santi, Morgan Zhang, Elizabeth Salvo, Kesava Asam, Chi T. Viet, Tongxin Xie, Moran Amit, Bradley Aouizerat, Yi Ye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Head and neck cancer (HNC) is the seventh most common cancer worldwide, the majority being oral squamous cell carcinoma. Despite advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, the survival rate of patients with HNC remains stagnant. The cancer-nerve interaction has been recognized as an important driver of cancer progression. Schwann cells, a type of peripheral glia, have been implicated in promoting cancer cell growth, migration, dispersion, and invasion into the nerve in many cancers. Here, it is demonstrated that the presence of Schwann cells makes oral cancer cells more aggressive by promoting their proliferation, extracellular matrix breakdown, and altering cell metabolism. Furthermore, oral cancer cells became larger, more circular, with more projections and nuclei following co-culturing with Schwann cells. RNA-sequencing analysis in oral cancer cells following exposure to Schwann cells shows corresponding changes in genes involved in the hallmarks of cancer and cell metabolism; the enriched KEGG pathways are spliceosome, RNA transport, cell cycle, axon guidance, signaling pathways regulating pluripotency of stem cells, cAMP signaling, WNT signaling, proteoglycans in cancer and PI3K-Akt signaling. Taken together, these results suggest a significant role for Schwann cells in facilitating oral cancer progression, highlighting their potential as a target to treat oral cancer progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2200187
JournalAdvanced Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Schwann cells
  • invasion
  • metabolism
  • metastasis
  • oral squamous cell carcinoma
  • perineural invasion
  • proliferation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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