The epidermal growth factor receptor is the only available tyrosine kinase molecular target for treating oral cancer. To improve the prognosis of tongue squamous cell carcinoma (TSCC) patients, a novel molecular target for tyrosine kinases is thus needed. We examined the expression of interleukin-2–inducible T-cell kinase (ITK) using immunohistochemistry, and the biological function of ITK was investigated using biochemical, phosphoproteomic, and metabolomic analyses. We found that ITK is overexpressed in TSCC patients with poor outcomes. The proliferation of oral cancer cell lines expressing ITK via transfection exhibited significant increases in three-dimensional culture assays and murine inoculation models with athymic male nude mice as compared with mock control cells. Suppressing the kinase activity using chemical inhibitors significantly reduced the increase in cell growth induced by ITK expression. Phosphoproteomic analyses revealed that ITK expression triggered phosphorylation of a novel tyrosine residue in trifunctional purine biosynthetic protein adenosine-3, an enzyme in the purine biosynthesis pathway. A significant increase in de novo biosynthesis of purines was observed in cells expressing ITK, which was abolished by the ITK inhibitor. ITK thus represents a potentially useful target for treating TSCC through modulation of purine biosynthesis.
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