Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a highly morbid disease. Recent developments including Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved molecular targeted agent’s pembrolizumab and cetuximab show promise but did not improve the five-year survival which is currently less than 40%. The hepatocyte growth factor receptor; also known as mesenchymal–epithelial transition factor (c-Met) and its ligand hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) are overexpressed in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC); and regulates tumor progression and response to therapy. The c-Met pathway has been shown to regulate many cellular processes such as cell proliferation, invasion, and angiogenesis. The c-Met pathway is involved in cross-talk, activation, and perpetuation of other signaling pathways, curbing the cogency of a blockade molecule on a single pathway. The receptor and its ligand act on several downstream effectors including phospholipase C gamma (PLCγ), cellular Src kinase (c-Src), phosphotidylinsitol-3-OH kinase (PI3K) alpha serine/threonine-protein kinase (Akt), mitogen activate protein kinase (MAPK), and wingless-related integration site (Wnt) pathways. They are also known to cross-talk with other receptors; namely epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) and specifically contribute to treatment resistance. Clinical trials targeting the c-Met axis in HNSCC have been undertaken because of significant preclinical work demonstrating a relationship between HGF/c-Met signaling and cancer cell survival. Here we focus on HGF/c-Met impact on cellular signaling in HNSCC to potentiate tumor growth and disrupt therapeutic efficacy. Herein we summarize the current understanding of HGF/c-Met signaling and its effects on HNSCC. The intertwining of c-Met signaling with other signaling pathways provides opportunities for more robust and specific therapies, leading to better clinical outcomes.
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