Backgroundp53 and DIRAS3 are tumor suppressors that are frequently silenced in tumors. In this study, we sought to determine whether the concurrent re-expression of p53 and DIRAS3 could effectively induce head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cell death.MethodsCAL-27 and SCC-25 cells were treated with Ad-DIRAS3 and rAd-p53 to induce re-expression of DIRAS3 and p53 respectively. The effects of DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression on the growth and apoptosis of HNSCC cells were examined by TUNEL assay, flow cytometric analysis and MTT. The effects of DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression on Akt phosphorylation, oncogene expression, and the interaction of 4E-BP1 with eIF4E were determined by real-time PCR, Western blotting and immunoprecipitation analysis. The ability of DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression to induce autophagy was evaluated by transmission electron microscopy, LC3 fluorescence microscopy and Western blotting. The effects of DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression on HNSCC growth were evaluated by using an orthotopic xenograft mouse model.ResultsTUNEL assay and flow cytometric analysis showed that the concurrent re-expression of DIRAS3 and p53 significantly induced apoptosis (P < 0.001). MTT and flow cytometric analysis revealed that DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression significantly inhibited proliferation and induced cell cycle arrest (P < 0.001). Mechanistically, the concurrent re-expression of DIRAS3 and p53 down-regulated signal transducer and activation of transcription 3 (STAT3) and up-regulated p21WAF1/CIP1 and Bax (P < 0.001). DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression also inhibited Akt phosphorylation, increased the interaction of eIF4E with 4E-BP1, and reduced the expression of c-Myc, cyclin D1, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and Bcl-2 (P < 0.001). Moreover, the concurrent re-expression of DIRAS3 and p53 increased the percentage of cells with GFP-LC3 puncta compared with that in cells treated with control adenovirus (50.00% ± 4.55% vs. 4.67% ± 1.25%, P < 0.001). LC3 fluorescence microscopy and Western blotting further showed that DIRAS3 and p53 re-expression significantly promoted autophagic activity but also inhibited autophagic flux, resulting in overall impaired autophagy. Finally, the concurrent re-expression of DIRAS3 and p53 significantly decreased the tumor volume compared with the control group in a HNSCC xenograft mouse model [(3.12 ± 0.75) mm3 vs. (189.02 ± 17.54) mm3, P < 0.001].ConclusionsThe concurrent re-expression of DIRAS3 and p53 is a more effective approach to HNSCC treatment than current treatment strategies.