Background: Hyperactivation of STAT3 via constitutive phosphorylation of tyrosine 705 (Y705) is common in most human cancers, including head and neck squamous carcinoma (HNSCC). STAT3 is rarely mutated in cancer and the (epi)genetic alterations that lead to STAT3 activation are incompletely understood. Here we used an unbiased approach to identify genomic and epigenomic changes associated with pSTAT3(Y705) expression using data generated by The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). Methods and Findings: Mutation, mRNA expression, promoter methylation, and copy number alteration data were extracted from TCGA and examined in the context of pSTAT3(Y705) protein expression. mRNA expression levels of 1279 genes were found to be associated with pSTAT3(705) expression. Association of pSTAT3(Y705) expression with caspase-8 mRNA expression was validated by immunoblot analysis in HNSCC cells. Mutation, promoter hypermethylation, and copy number alteration of any gene were not significantly associated with increased pSTAT3(Y705) protein expression. Conclusions: These cumulative results suggest that unbiased approaches may be useful in identifying the molecular underpinnings of oncogenic signaling, including STAT3 activation, in HNSCC. Larger datasets will likely be necessary to elucidate signaling consequences of infrequent alterations.
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