Targeting of FSP1 regulates iron homeostasis in drug-tolerant persister head and neck cancer cells via lipid-metabolism-driven ferroptosis

Yang Che Wu, Chin Sheng Huang, Ming Shou Hsieh, Chih Ming Huang, Syahru Agung Setiawan, Chi Tai Yeh, Kuang Tai Kuo, Shao Cheng Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Research has demonstrated that some tumor cells can transform into drug-tolerant persisters (DTPs), which serve as a reservoir for the recurrence of the disease. The persister state in cancer cells arises due to temporary molecular reprogramming, and exploring the genetic composition and microenvironment during the development of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) can enhance our comprehension of the types of cell death that HNSCC, thus identifying potential targets for innovative therapies. This project investigated lipid-metabolism-driven ferroptosis and its role in drug resistance and DTP generation in HNSCC. Methods: High levels of FSP1 were discovered in the tissues of patients who experienced relapse after cisplatin treatment. RNA sequencing indicated that a series of genes related to lipid metabolism were also highly expressed in tissues from these patients. Consistent results were obtained in primary DTP cells isolated from patients who experienced relapse. The Cancer Genome Atlas database confirmed this finding. This revealed that the activation of drug resistance in cancer cells is influenced by FSP1, intracellular iron homeostasis, and lipid metabolism. The regulatory roles of ferroptosis suppressor protein 1 (FSP1) in HNSCC metabolic regulation were investigated. Results: We generated human oral squamous cell carcinoma DTP cells (HNSCC cell line) to cisplatin and observed higher expression of FSP1 and lipid-metabolism-related targets in vitro. The shFSP1 blockade attenuated HNSCC-DTP cell stemness and downregulated tumor invasion and the metastatic rate. We found that cisplatin induced FSP1/ACSL4 axis expression in HNSC-DTPC cells. Finally, we evaluated the HNSCC CSC-inhibitory functions of iFSP1 (a metabolic drug and ferroptosis inducer) used for neo-adjuvant chemotherapy; this was achieved by inducing ferroptosis in a patient-derived xenograft mouse model. Conclusions: The present findings elucidate the link between iron homeostasis, ferroptosis, and cancer metabolism in HNSCC-DTP generation and acquisition of chemoresistance. The findings may serve as a suitable model for cancer treatment testing and prediction of precision treatment outcomes. In conclusion, this study provides clinically oriented platforms for evaluating metabolism-modulating drugs (FSP1 inhibitors) and new drug candidates of drug resistance and ferroptotic biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627
Number of pages1
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • drug-tolerant persister cancer cells
  • ferroptosis
  • FSP1
  • tumor organoids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Cell Biology


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