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1.  FoxM1 overexpression promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis of hepatocellular carcinoma 
AIM: To investigate the expression of forkhead box protein M1 (FoxM1) in the process of epithelial mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and its role in metastasis.
METHODS: FoxM1 and E-cadherin expression in HCC tissue microarray specimens was evaluated by immunohistochemical staining, and statistical methods were applied to analyze the correlation between FoxM1 and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Kaplan-Meier analysis of the correlation between the FoxM1 expression level and recurrence or overall survival of HCC patients was performed. The expression of FoxM1, E-cadherin and snail homologue 1 (SNAI1) in HCC cell lines was evaluated by real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and Western blot. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) was used to induce EMT and stimulate cell migration in HCC cells. The expression of FoxM1 and SNAI1 was regulated by transfection with plasmids pcDNA3.1 and siRNAs in vitro. The occurrence of EMT was evaluated by Transwell assay, morphologic analysis and detection of the expression of EMT markers (E-cadherin and vimentin). Luciferase and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays were used to evaluate whether SNAI1 is a direct transcriptional target of FoxM1.
RESULTS: FoxM1 expression was increased significantly in HCC compared with para-carcinoma (10.7 ± 0.9 vs 8.2 ± 0.7, P < 0.05) and normal hepatic (10.7 ± 0.9 vs 2.7 ± 0.4, P < 0.05) tissues. Overexpression of FoxM1 was correlated with HCC tumor size, tumor number, macrovascular invasion and higher TNM stage, but was negatively correlated with E-cadherin expression in microarray specimens and in cell lines. FoxM1 overexpression was correlated significantly with HCC metastasis and EMT. In vitro, we found that FoxM1 plays a key role in HGF-induced EMT, and overexpression of FoxM1 could suppress E-cadherin expression and induce EMT changes, which were associated with increased HCC cell invasiveness. Next, we confirmed that FOXM1 directly binds to and activates the SNAI1 promoter, and we identified SNAI1 as a direct transcriptional target of FOXM1. Moreover, inhibiting the expression of SNAI1 significantly inhibited FoxM1-mediated EMT.
CONCLUSION: FoxM1 overexpression promotes EMT and metastasis of HCC, and SNAI1 plays a critical role in FoxM1-mediated EMT.
PMCID: PMC4284335  PMID: 25574092
Forkhead box protein M1; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Snail homolog 1; E-cadherin
2.  Insufficient radiofrequency ablation promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition of hepatocellular carcinoma cells through Akt and ERK signaling pathways 
Residual tumor progression after insufficient radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has been recently reported. However, whether epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which is a key process that drives cancer metastasis, is involved in the tumor progression after insufficient RFA is not well understood.
Human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines SMMC7721 and Huh7 were used. Insufficient RFA was simulated using a water bath (47°C 5 min, 10 min, 15 min, 20 min and 25 min gradually). MTT assay was used to evaluate the proliferation of HCC cells in vitro. Migration and invasion of HCC cells were determined by transwell assay. The molecular changes in HCC cells after insufficient RFA were evaluated by western blot. LY294002 and PD98059 were used to treat HCC cells. An ectopic nude mice model and a tail vein metastatic assay were used to evaluate the growth and metastatic potential of SMMC7721 cells in vivo after insufficient RFA.
SMMC7721 and Huh7 cells after insufficient RFA (named as SMMC7721-H and Huh7-H respectively) exhibited enhanced proliferation, migration and invasion (6.4% and 23.6%, 33.2% and 66.1%, and 44.1% and 57.4% increase respectively) in vitro. Molecular changes of EMT were observed in SMMC7721-H and Huh7-H cells. LY294002 and PD98059 inhibited the EMT of SMMC7721-H and Huh7-H cells. SMMC7721-H cells also exhibited larger tumor size (1440.8 ± 250.3 mm3 versus 1048.56 ± 227.6 mm3) and more lung metastasis (97.4% increase) than SMMC7721 cells in vivo. Higher expression of PCNA, N-cadherin and MMP-2 and MMP-9, was also observed in SMMC7721-H tumors.
Insufficient RFA could directly promote the invasiveness and metastasis of HCC cells. Insufficient RFA may promote the EMT of HCC cells through Akt and ERK signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC3842745  PMID: 24168056
Insufficient radiofrequency ablation; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Metastasis
3.  MicroRNA-26b inhibits epithelial-mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma by targeting USP9X 
BMC Cancer  2014;14:393.
Metastasis is responsible for the rapid recurrence and poor survival of malignancies. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has a critical role in metastasis. Increasing evidence indicates that EMT can be regulated by microRNAs (miRNAs). The aim of this study was to investigate the role of miR-26b in modulating epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), as well as to identify its underlying mechanism of action.
The expression level of miR-26b was assessed in multiple HCC cell lines (HepG2, MHCC97H, Hep3B, MHCC97L, HCCC9810, BEL-7402, Huh7 and QGY-7703), as well as in liver tissue from patients with HCC. Follow-up studies examined the effects of a miR-26b mimic (increased expression) and a miR-26b inhibitor (decreased expression) on markers of EMT, wound healing and cell migration. The molecular target of miR-26b was also identified using a computer algorithm and confirmed experimentally.
MiR-26b expression was decreased in HCC cell lines and was inversely correlated with the grade of HCC. Increased expression of miR-26b inhibited the migration and invasiveness of HCC cell lines, which was accompanied by decreased expression of the epithelial marker E-cadherin and increased expression of the mesenchymal marker vimentin, at both the mRNA and protein expression levels. A binding site for miR-26b was theoretically identified in the 3′UTR of USP9X. Further studies revealed that overexpression of miR-26b repressed the endogenous level of USP9X protein expression. Overexpression of miR-26b also repressed Smad4 expression, whereas its inhibition elevated Smad4 expression.
Taken together, our results indicate that miR-26b were inhibited in HCC. In HCC cell lines, miR-26b targeted the 3′UTR of USP9X, which in turn affects EMT through Smad4 and the TGF-β signaling pathway. Our analysis of clinical HCC samples verifies that miR-26b also targets USP9X expression to inhibit the EMT of hepatocytes. Thus, miR-26b may have some effects on the EMT of HCC cells.
PMCID: PMC4062892  PMID: 24890815
miR-26; USP9X; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma
4.  Toll-Like Receptor 2 Impairs Host Defense in Gram-Negative Sepsis Caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei (Melioidosis) 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(7):e248.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are essential in host defense against pathogens by virtue of their capacity to detect microbes and initiate the immune response. TLR2 is seen as the most important receptor for gram-positive bacteria, while TLR4 is regarded as the gram-negative TLR. Melioidosis is a severe infection caused by the gram-negative bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, that is endemic in Southeast Asia. We aimed to characterize the expression and function of TLRs in septic melioidosis.
Methods and Findings
Patient studies: 34 patients with melioidosis demonstrated increased expression of CD14, TLR1, TLR2, and TLR4 on the cell surfaces of monocytes and granulocytes, and increased CD14, TLR1, TLR2, TLR4, LY96 (also known as MD-2), TLR5, and TLR10 mRNA levels in purified monocytes and granulocytes when compared with healthy controls. In vitro experiments: Whole-blood and alveolar macrophages obtained from TLR2 and TLR4 knockout (KO) mice were less responsive to B. pseudomallei in vitro, whereas in the reverse experiment, transfection of HEK293 cells with either TLR2 or TLR4 rendered these cells responsive to this bacterium. In addition, the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of B. pseudomallei signals through TLR2 and not through TLR4. Mouse studies: Surprisingly, TLR4 KO mice were indistinguishable from wild-type mice with respect to bacterial outgrowth and survival in experimentally induced melioidosis. In contrast, TLR2 KO mice displayed a markedly improved host defenses as reflected by a strong survival advantage together with decreased bacterial loads, reduced lung inflammation, and less distant-organ injury.
Patients with melioidosis displayed an up-regulation of multiple TLRs in peripheral blood monocytes and granulocytes. Although both TLR2 and TLR4 contribute to cellular responsiveness to B. pseudomallei in vitro, TLR2 detects the LPS of B. pseudomallei, and only TLR2 impacts on the immune response of the intact host in vivo. Inhibition of TLR2 may be a novel treatment strategy in melioidosis.
Willem Wiersinga and colleagues find up-regulation of multiple Toll-like receptors (TLRs) in peripheral blood cells of patients with melioidosis. However, only TLR2 had an effect on the immune response in a mouse model.
Editors' Summary
Melioidosis is a severe tropical infection caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. This soil-dwelling pathogen (disease-causing organism) enters the body through cuts, by swallowed contaminated water, or by inhaled contaminated dust. Here, it can cause a severe lung infection or spread into the blood stream and around the body, where it causes widespread inflammation (sepsis) and organ failure. Untreated septic melioidosis is usually fatal. Even with antibiotic therapy, half the people who develop it in Thailand (a hot spot for melioidosis) die. B. pseudomallei is a “gram-negative” bacterium. That is, it is surrounded by a membrane that stops it taking up a stain used to detect bacteria. This membrane contains a molecule called lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Proteins on immune system cells called Toll-like receptors (TLRs), of which there are many, recognize LPS and other surface molecules common to different pathogens and tell the cells to make cytokines. These cytokines stimulate the immune system to kill the pathogen but also cause inflammation, the underlying problem in septic melioidosis and other forms of sepsis. In other words, TLRs are two-edged swords—they provide an essential first-line defense against pathogens, but cause life-threatening inflammation if overstimulated.
Why Was This Study Done?
It isn't known which TLRs are involved in melioidosis. TLR4 normally detects LPS, but the surface of B. pseudomallei also carries molecules that interact with TLR2. Understanding how B. pseudomallei interacts with TLRs might suggest new, more effective ways to treat septic melioidosis. Better remedies for this disease are badly needed because, as well as the infections it causes in the community, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified B. pseudomallei as a potential bioterrorism agent. In this study, the researchers have characterized the expression and function of TLRs in septic melioidosis using human, in vitro (test tube), and animal approaches.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers isolated monocytes and granulocytes (immune system cells involved in first-line defenses against pathogens) from patients with melioidosis and from healthy people. The patients' cells made more TLR1, TLR2, TLR4, and CD14 (a protein that enhances the activation of immune system cells by LPS) than those of the healthy controls and more of the mRNAs encoding several other TLRs. Next, the researchers tested the ability of heat-killed B. pseudomallei to induce the release of TNFα (a cytokine produced in response to TLR signaling) from macrophages (immune system cells that swallow up pathogens) isolated from wild-type mice and from mice lacking TLR2 or TLR4. Macrophages isolated from wild-type mice made more TNFα than those from TLR2- or TLR4-deficient mice. In addition, a human kidney cell line engineered to express CD14/TLR2 or CD14/TLR4 but not the parent cell line released IL8 (another cytokine) when stimulated with heat-killed B. pseudomallei. Other experiments in these human cell lines showed that LPS purified from B. pseudomallei signals through TLR2 but not through TLR4. Finally, the researchers tested the ability of TLR2- and TLR4-deficient mice to survive after infection with live B. pseudomallei. Compared with TLR4-deficient or wild-type mice, the TLR2-deficient mice had a strong survival advantage, a lower bacterial load, reduced lung inflammation, and less organ damage.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that people with melioidosis have increased expression of several TLRs, any one of which might cause the sepsis associated with B. pseudomallei infection. The in vitro findings indicate that TLR2 and TLR4 both contribute to the responsiveness of immune cells to B. pseudomallei in test tubes, but that only TLR2 detects the LPS of this bacterium. This unexpected result—TLR4 normally responds to LPS—might indicate that there is something unique about the LPS of B. pseudomallei. Finally, the survival of TLR2-deficient mice after infection with B. pseudomallei suggests that TLR2-mediated dysregulation of the immune system in response to invasive B. pseudomallei might cause septic melioidosis. Although these results need confirming in people, they suggest that inhibition of TLR2 in combination with antibiotic therapy might improve outcomes for people with melioidosis.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on melioidosis (in English and Spanish)
The UK Health Protection Agency provides information for the public and health professionals on melioidosis
Wikipedia has pages on melioidosis and on Toll-like receptors (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on sepsis (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC1950213  PMID: 17676990
5.  Intratumoral Hepatic Stellate Cells as a Poor Prognostic Marker and a New Treatment Target for Hepatocellular Carcinoma  
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80212.
Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), a specialized stromal cytotype in the liver, have been demonstrated to actively contribute to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development. However, the previous studies were performed using HSC cell lines, and the prognostic value of intratumoral HSCs (tHSCs) was unclear. Here we isolated tHSCs from fresh human HCC tissues, and analyzed the abilities of tHSCs to promote HCC progression by using in vitro assays for cell viability, migration and invasion as well as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype. 252 HCC patients who underwent hepatectomy were enrolled for analysis of tHSCs and E-cadherin expression in tumor tissues, and 55 HCC patients for analysis of tHSCs in tumor tissues and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in blood. Prognostic factors were then identified. The results showed that coculture of tHSCs with HCC cells had a stronger effect on HCC cell viability, migration and invasion, accompanied with the acquisition of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype. In vivo cotransplantation of HCC cells with tHSCs into nude mice more efficiently promoted tumor formation and growth. Icaritin, a known apoptosis inducer of HSCs, was demonstrated to effectively inhibit tHSC proliferation in vitro and tHSC-induced HCC-promoting effects in vivo. Clinical evidence indicated that tHSCs were rich in 45% of the HCC specimens, tHSC-rich subtypes were negatively correlated either with E-cadherin expression in tumor tissues (r = -0.256, p < 0.001) or with preoperative CTCs in blood (r = -0.287, p = 0.033), and were significantly correlated with tumor size (p = 0.027), TNM staging (p = 0.018), and vascular invasion (p = 0.008). Overall and recurrence-free survival rates of tHSC-rich patients were significantly worse than those for tHSC-poor patients. Multivariate analysis revealed tHSC-rich as an independent factor for overall and recurrence-free survival. In conclusion, tHSCs provide a promising prognostic biomarker and a new treatment target for HCC.
PMCID: PMC3835887  PMID: 24278260
6.  Overexpression of brachyury contributes to tumor metastasis by inducing epithelial-mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma 
Brachyury overexpression has been reported in various human malignant neoplasms, but its expression and function in hepatocellular carcinoma progression and metastasis remains unknown. The present study aimed to evaluate the critical role of Brachyury in HCC metastasis.
The expression of Brachyury in human HCC (SMMC7721, HepG2, FHCC98, and Hep3B) and control cell lines was analyzed using quantitative reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and immunoflourence methods. Cancerous tissues collected from patients with HCC (n = 112) were analyzed using immunohistochemical method; a microarray analysis of HCC tissues was performed to explore the clinicopathological variables of HCC. The migratory and invasive capacities of Brachyury-SMMC7721 and Brachyury-HepG2 transfected cells were evaluated using in vitro scratch wound healing and Matrigel invasion assays, respectively. Further, six-week-old male BALB/c nude mice (n = 10) model was used in vivo assay.
Elevated expression of Brachyury was detected in HCCs (62.5%) compared with that in adjacent nontumorous tissues. Clinicopathological analysis revealed a close correlation of Brachyury expression with distant metastasis and poor prognosis of HCC. Overexpression of Brachyury promoted epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and metastasis of HCC cells in vitro and in vivo. Brachyury overexpression enhanced Akt activation by inhibiting phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN), which led to subsequent stabilization of Snail, a critical EMT mediator.
The study findings suggest that elevated Brachyury facilitates HCC metastasis by promoting EMT via PTEN/Akt/Snail-dependent pathway. Brachyury plays a pivotal role in HCC metastasis and may serve as a novel prognostic biomarker and therapeutic target.
PMCID: PMC4279691  PMID: 25499255
Hepatocellular carcinoma; Brachyury; Cancer metastasis; Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition; PTEN/Akt/Snail-Dependent Pathway
7.  Epithelial–mesenchymal transition markers expressed in circulating tumor cells in hepatocellular carcinoma patients with different stages of disease 
Cell Death & Disease  2013;4(10):e831-.
The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in peripheral blood is associated with metastasis and prognosis in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) has a pivotal role in tumor invasion and dissemination. To identify more sensitive biomarkers for evaluating metastasis and prognosis, we investigated the expression of EMT markers, including vimentin, twist, ZEB1, ZEB2, snail, slug and E-cadherin in CTCs, primary HCC tumors and adjacent non-tumoral liver tissues. After isolating viable CTCs from the peripheral blood of HCC patients using asialoglycoprotein receptors (ASGPRs), the CTCs were identified with immunofluorescence staining. CTCs were detected in the peripheral blood obtained from 46 of 60 (76.7%) HCC patients. Triple-immunofluorescence staining showed that twist and vimentin expression could be detected in CTCs obtained from 39 (84.8%) and 37 (80.4%) of the 46 patients, respectively. The expression of both twist and vimentin in CTCs was significantly correlated with portal vein tumor thrombus. Coexpression of twist and vimentin in CTCs could be detected in 32 (69.6%) of the 46 patients and was highly correlated with portal vein tumor thrombus, TNM classification and tumor size. Quantitative fluorescence western blot analysis revealed that the expression levels of E-cadherin, vimentin and twist in HCC tumors were significantly associated with the positivity of isolated CTCs (P=0.013, P=0.012, P=0.009, respectively). However, there was no significant difference in ZEB1, ZEB2, snail and slug expression levels in CTCs, primary HCC tumors and adjacent non-tumoral liver tissues across samples with regard to the clinicopathological parameters. Our results demonstrate that the EMT has a role in promoting the blood-borne dissemination of primary HCC cells, and the twist and vimentin expression levels in CTCs could serve as promising biomarkers for evaluating metastasis and prognosis in HCC patients.
PMCID: PMC3824657  PMID: 24091674
circulating tumor cells; epithelial–mesenchymal transition; hepatocellular carcinoma; metastasis; biomarkers
8.  FOXC1 Contributes To Microvascular Invasion In Primary Hepatocellular Carcinoma Via Regulating Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition 
The existence of microvascular invasion (MVI) formation is one of the most important risk factors predicting poor outcome in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and its mechanism remains largely unknown. Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) has been suggested to be involved in many steps of the invasion-metastasis cascade. To elucidate the possible contribution of EMT to MVI, we initially evaluated the expression of 8 EMT-related transcription factors (TFs) in HCC patients with or without MVI and found that FOXC1 expression was significantly higher in patients with MVI than those without MVI (P < 0.05). Knockdown of FOXC1 expression in HCC cells resulted in a partial conversion of their EMT progresses, mainly regulating the mesenchymal component. Ectopic expression of snail, twist or TGF-β1 could induce expression of FOXC1, but none of the expression of snail, twist, slug or TGF-β was consistently down-regulated in response to FOXC1 silencing, suggesting FOXC1 might operate the downstream of other EMT regulators. In addition, knockdown of FOXC1 expression led to cytoskeleton modification accompanied by decreased ability of cell proliferation, migration, and invasion. Meanwhile, some matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and VEGF-A were also simultaneously down-regulated. Together, our findings demonstrate that FOXC1 is one of candidate predictive markers of MVI, and that inhibition of FOXC1 expression can partially reverse EMT program, offering a potential molecular therapeutic target for reducing tumor metastasis in HCC patients.
PMCID: PMC3445051  PMID: 22991501
Hepatocellular carcinoma; Microvascular invasion; Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition; FOXC1.
9.  14-3-3ε Overexpression Contributes to Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition of Hepatocellular Carcinoma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e57968.
14-3-3ε is implicated in regulating tumor progression, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Our earlier study indicated that elevated 14-3-3ε expression is significantly associated with higher risk of metastasis and lower survival rates of HCC patients. However, the molecular mechanisms of how 14-3-3ε regulates HCC tumor metastasis are still unclear.
Methodology and Principal Findings
In this study, we show that increased 14-3-3ε expression induces HCC cell migration and promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which is determined by the reduction of E-cadherin expression and induction of N-cadherin and vimentin expression. Knockdown with specific siRNA abolished 14-3-3ε-induced cell migration and EMT. Furthermore, 14-3-3ε selectively induced Zeb-1 and Snail expression, and 14-3-3ε-induced cell migration was abrogated by Zeb-1 or Snail siRNA. In addition, the effect of 14-3-3ε-reduced E-cadherin was specifically restored by Zeb-1 siRNA. Positive 14-3-3ε expression was significantly correlated with negative E-cadherin expression, as determined by immunohistochemistry analysis in HCC tumors. Analysis of 14-3-3ε/E-cadherin expression associated with clinicopathological characteristics revealed that the combination of positive 14-3-3ε and negative E-cadherin expression is significantly correlated with higher incidence of HCC metastasis and poor 5-year overall survival. In contrast, patients with positive 14-3-3ε and positive E-cadherin expression had better prognostic outcomes than did those with negative E-cadherin expression.
Our findings show for the first time that E-cadherin is one of the downstream targets of 14-3-3ε in modulating HCC tumor progression. Thus, 14-3-3ε may act as an important regulator in modulating tumor metastasis by promoting EMT as well as cell migration, and it may serve as a novel prognostic biomarker or therapeutic target for HCC.
PMCID: PMC3590290  PMID: 23483955
10.  Hypoxia induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition via activation of SNAI1 by hypoxia-inducible factor -1α in hepatocellular carcinoma 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:108.
High invasion and metastasis are the primary factors causing poor prognosis of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these biological behaviors have not been completely elucidated. In this study, we investigate the molecular mechanism by which hypoxia promotes HCC invasion and metastasis through inducing epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).
The expression of EMT markers was analyzed by immunohistochemistry. Effect of hypoxia on induction of EMT and ability of cell migration and invasion were performed. Luciferase reporter system was used for evaluation of Snail regulation by hypoxia-inducible factor -1α (HIF-1α).
We found that overexpression of HIF-1α was observed in HCC liver tissues and was related to poor prognosis of HCC patients. HIF-1α expression profile was correlated with the expression levels of SNAI1, E-cadherin, N-cadherin and Vimentin. Hypoxia was able to induce EMT and enhance ability of invasion and migration in HCC cells. The same phenomena were also observed in CoCl2-treated cells. The shRNA-mediated HIF-1α suppression abrogated CoCl2-induced EMT and reduced ability of migration and invasion in HCC cells. Luciferase assay showed that HIF-1α transcriptional regulated the expression of SNAI1 based on two hypoxia response elements (HREs) in SNAI1 promoter.
We demonstrated that hypoxia-stabilized HIF1α promoted EMT through increasing SNAI1 transcription in HCC cells. This data provided a potential therapeutic target for HCC treatment.
PMCID: PMC3614870  PMID: 23496980
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hypoxia; Hypoxia-inducible factor-1α; SNAI1; Hepatocellular carcinoma
11.  RANKL Promotes Migration and Invasion of Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells via NF-κB-Mediated Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108507.
Metastasis accounts for the most deaths in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa B ligand (RANKL) is associated with cancer metastasis, while its role in HCC remains largely unknown.
Immunohistochemistry was performed to determine the expression of RANK in HCC tissue (n = 398). Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and Western blot were used to examine the expression of RANK, E-cadherin, N-cadherin, vimentin, Snail, Slug, Twist and MMPs in HCC cells. Wound healing and Transwell assays were used to evaluate cell migration and invasion ability.
We found that expression of RANK, the receptor of RANKL, was significantly higher in HCC tumor tissues than in peritumor liver tissues (p<0.001). Constitutive expression of RANK was detected in HCC cell lines, which can be up-regulated when HCC cells were stimulated with RANKL. Notably, in vitro experiments showed that activation of RANKL-RANK axis significantly promoted migration and invasion ability of HCC cells. In addition, RANKL stimulation increased the expression levels of N-cadherin, Snail, and Twist, while decreased the expression of E-cadherin, with concomitant activation of NF-κB signaling pathway. Moreover, administration of the NF-κB inhibitor attenuated RANKL-induced migration, invasion and epithelial-mesenchymal transition of HCC cells.
RANKL could potentiate migration and invasion ability of RANK-positive HCC cells through NF-κB pathway-mediated epithelial-mesenchymal transition, which means that RANKL-RANK axis could be a potential target for HCC therapy.
PMCID: PMC4182493  PMID: 25268581
12.  Hepatocyte growth factor upregulation promotes carcinogenesis and epithelial-mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma via Akt and COX-2 pathways 
Advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an important cause of cancer mortality. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been shown to be an important biological process in cancer progression and metastasis. We have focused on elucidating factors that induce EMT to promote carcinogenesis and subsequent metastasis in HCC using the BNL CL.2 (BNL) and BNL 1ME A. 7R.1 (1MEA) cell lines. BNL cells are normal hepatocytes whereas the 1MEA cells are HCC cells derived from chemical transformation of the BNL cells. Their morphological characteristics were examined. Expression levels of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), markers of EMT and mediators of HGF signaling were determined and functional characteristics were compared. BNL cells were treated with HGF and effects on EMT-marker and mediators of HGF signaling were analyzed. BNL cells display characteristic epithelial morphology whereas 1MEA cells display mesenchymal characteristics. 1MEA cells express and secrete more HGF than BNL cells. There was significantly decreased expression of E-cadherin, albumin, AAT and increased expression of fibronectin, collagen-1, vimentin, snail and slug in 1MEA cells. There was also increased expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), Akt and phosphorylated Akt (pAkt) in 1MEA cells. Moreover, 1MEA cells had increased migratory capacity inhibited by inhibition of COX-2 and Akt but not extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK). Molecular mesenchymal characteristics of 1MEA cells were reversed by inhibition of COX-2, Akt and ERK. Treatment of BNL cells with HGF led to decreased expression of E-cadherin and increased expression of fibronectin, vimentin, snail, slug, COX-2, Akt, pAkt and increased migration, invasiveness and clonogenicity. We conclude that development of HCC is associated with upregulation of HGF which promotes EMT and carcinogenesis via upregulation of COX-2 and Akt. Consequently, HGF signaling may be targeted for therapy in advanced and metastatic HCC.
PMCID: PMC3732749  PMID: 21744257
Chemoprevention; Cyclooxygenase-2; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Hepatocyte growth factor
13.  Residual hepatocellular carcinoma after oxaliplatin treatment has increased metastatic potential in a nude mouse model and is attenuated by Songyou Yin 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:219.
The opposite effects of chemotherapy, which enhance the malignancy of treated cancers such as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), are not well understood. We investigated this phenomenon and corresponding mechanisms to develop a novel approach for improving chemotherapy efficacy in HCC.
Human hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines HepG2 (with low metastatic potential) and MHCC97L (with moderate metastatic potential) were used for the in vitro study. An orthotopic nude mouse model of human HCC was developed using MHCC97L cells. We then assessed the metastatic potential of surviving tumor cells after in vitro and in vivo oxaliplatin treatment. The molecular changes in surviving tumor cells were evaluated by western blot, immunofluorescence, and immunohistochemistry. The Chinese herbal extract Songyou Yin (composed of five herbs) was investigated in vivo to explore its effect on the metastatic potential of oxaliplatin-treated cancer cells.
MHCC97L and HepG2 cells surviving oxaliplatin treatment showed enhanced migration and invasion in vitro. Residual HCC after in vivo oxaliplatin treatment demonstrated significantly increased metastasis to the lung (10/12 vs. 3/12) when re-inoculated into the livers of new recipient nude mice. Molecular changes consistent with epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) were observed in oxaliplatin-treated tumor tissues and verified by in vitro experiments. The Chinese herbal extract Songyou Yin (4.2 and 8.4 g/kg) attenuated EMT and inhibited the enhanced metastatic potential of residual HCC in nude mice (6/15 vs. 13/15 and 3/15 vs. 13/15, respectively).
The surviving HCC after oxaliplatin treatment underwent EMT and demonstrated increased metastatic potential. Attenuation of EMT by Songyou Yin may improve the efficacy of chemotherapy in HCC.
PMCID: PMC2880993  PMID: 20487542
14.  MicroRNA-130b Promotes Cell Aggressiveness by Inhibiting Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma 
MircroRNA-130b (miR-130b) is proposed as a novel tumor-related miRNA and has been found to be significantly dysregulated in tumors. In this study, the expression level of miR-130b was found to be obviously higher in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tissues than that in nontumor tissues. Further, miR-130b was expressed at significantly higher levels in aggressive and recurrent tumor tissues. Clinical analysis indicated that high-expression of miR-130b was prominently correlated with venous infiltration, high Edmondson-Steiner grading and advanced tumor-node-metastasis (TNM) tumor stage in HCC. Elevated miR-130b expression was observed in all HCC cell lines (HepG2, SMMC-7721, Huh7, Hep3B and MHCC97H) as compared with that in a nontransformed hepatic cell line (LO2). Furthermore, an inverse correlation between miR-130b and E-cadherin and a positive correlation between miR-130b and Vimentin were observed in HCC tissues. Down-regulation of miR-130b expression reduced invasion and migration in both Hep3B and MHCC97H cells. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPAR-γ) was inversely correlated with miR-130b expression in HCC tissues. In addition, down-regulation of miR-130b restored PPAR-γ expression and subsequently suppressed epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in HCC cells. We identified PPARγ as a direct target of miR-130b in HCC in vitro. Notably, PPAR-γ knockdown abolished down-regulation of miR-130b-inhibited EMT in MHCC97H cells. In conclusion, miR-130b may promote HCC cell migration and invasion by inhibiting PPAR-γ and subsequently inducing EMT.
PMCID: PMC4264179  PMID: 25387077
microRNA-130b; hepatocellular carcinoma; PPAR-γ (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma); invasion; tumor metastasis
15.  Critical Roles of p53 in Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and Metastasis of Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72846.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most malignant tumors and the biggest obstacle in curing HCC is its high metastasis potential. Alteration of p53 is the most frequent genetic change found in HCC. Although the biological function of p53 in tumor initiation and progression has been well characterized, whether or not p53 is implicated in metastasis of HCC is largely unknown. In this study, we analyzed the potential functions of p53 in epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and metastasis of HCC cells. Both insulin- and TGF-β1-induced changes of critical EMT markers were greatly enhanced by p53 knockdown in HCC cells. The insulin- and TGF-β1-stimulated migration of HCC cells were enhanced by p53 knockdown. Furthermore, in vivo metastasis of HCC cells using different mouse models was robustly enhanced by p53 knockdown. In addition, we found that p53 regulation on EMT and metastasis involves β-catenin signaling. The nuclear accumulation and transcriptional activity of β-catenin was modulated by p53. The enhanced EMT phenotype, cell migration and tumor metastasis of HCC cells by p53 knockdown were abrogated by inhibiting β-catenin signal pathway. In conclusion, this study reveals that p53 plays a pivotal role in EMT and metastasis of HCC cells via its regulation on β-catenin signaling.
PMCID: PMC3759437  PMID: 24023784
16.  HMGA2 induces epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells 
Oncology Letters  2013;5(4):1353-1356.
Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an important event during tumorigenesis. The human high-mobility group A2 (HMGA2) is a chromatin-binding protein, which contains three AT-hook domains that enable its binding to the minor groove of DNA. HMGA2 organizes protein complexes on enhancers of various genes to regulate gene expression and cell differentiation. The HMGA2 protein has been reported to be overexpressed in many types of cancer. It is not known, however, whether HMGA2 regulates EMT in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines, and the mechanism(s) have not been fully elucidated. In this study, the expression of HMGA2 in five HCC cell lines was examined. The levels of HMGA2 expression among the five HCC cell lines coincided with their invasiveness. The variation in HMGA2 expression significantly correlated with the expression of several putative EMT markers. In addition, assessment of the invasive potential, following transfection with HMGA2-siRNA, demonstrated that the rate of cell migration was significantly reduced, suggesting that HMGA2 may be an important contributor to the invasion of tumor cells and that expression levels of HMGA2 influence the metastatic behavior of HCC cells. To further confirm the conclusion and explore the molecular mechanism through which HMGA2 induces EMT, we found that HMGA2 upregulates the expression of Twist and Snail in HCC cell lines. In conclusion, this present study is the first to show that HMGA2 effectively regulates EMT to induce invasion and metastasis in HCC cells. The function of HMGA2 as an oncoprotein may be associated with several important molecules involved in invasion and metastasis of cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3629159  PMID: 23599793
epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; human high-mobility group A2; hepatocellular carcinoma; Snail; Twist
17.  Toll-Like Receptor 3 Expressing Tumor Parenchyma and Infiltrating Natural Killer Cells in Hepatocellular Carcinoma Patients 
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a highly aggressive cancer that is linked to chronically dysregulated liver inflammation. However, appropriate immune responses can control HCC progression. Here we investigated the role and underlying mechanism of toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) in HCC.
HCC cell death, and natural killer (NK) cell activation and cytotoxicity were assessed in vitro after treatment with the TLR3 ligand poly(I:C). The effect of TLR3 on the tumor parenchyma and infiltrating immune cells was investigated in a spontaneous liver tumor mouse model and a transplanted tumor mouse model (n = 3–9 mice per group). Immunohistochemistry and quantitative polymerase chain reaction were used to analyze tumor samples from 172 HCC patients. Paired t-tests and analysis of variance tests were used to calculate P-values. The relationship between TLR3 expression and survival was determined by the Kaplan–Meier univariate survival analysis and a log-rank test. All statistical tests were two-sided.
TLR3 activation increased cell death in the TLR3+ SNU182 HCC cell line (30.5% vs 8.5%, P = .03) and promoted NK-cell activation (32.6% vs 19.4%, P < .001) and cytotoxicity (relative fourfold increase, P = .03) in vitro. In vivo, poly(I:C) treatment increased intratumoral chemokine expression, NK-cell activation and tumor infiltration, and proliferation of tumor-infiltrating T and NK cells. Proliferation of tumor parenchyma cells was decreased. Also, expression of chemokines or treatment with poly(I:C) decreased tumor growth. TLR3 expression in patient samples correlated with NK-cell activation, NK- and T-cell tumor infiltration, and inversely correlated with tumor parenchyma cell viability. TLR3 expression was also associated with longer survival in HCC patients (hazard ratio of survival = 2.1, 95% confidence interval = 1.3 to 3.4, P = .002).
TLR3 is an important modulator of HCC progression and is a potential target for novel immunotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3814220  PMID: 23197495
18.  CLDN3 inhibits cancer aggressiveness via Wnt-EMT signaling and is a potential prognostic biomarker for hepatocellular carcinoma 
Oncotarget  2014;5(17):7663-7676.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common fatal malignancies but the molecular genetic basis of this disease remains unclear. By using genome-wide methylation profiling analysis, we identified CLDN3 as an epigenetically regulated gene in cancer. Here, we investigated its function and clinical relevance in human HCC. CLDN3 downregulation occurred in 87/114 (76.3%) of primary HCCs, where it was correlated significantly with shorter survival of HCC patients (P=0.021). Moreover, multivariate cyclooxygenase regression analysis showed that CLDN3 was an independent prognostic factor for overall survival (P=0.014). Absent expression of CLDN3 was also detected in 67% of HCC cell lines, which was significantly associated with its promoter hypermethylation. Ectopic expression of CLDN3 in HCC cells could inhibit cell motility, cell invasiveness, and tumor formation in nude mice. Mechanistic investigations suggested through downregulation of GSK3B, CTNNB1, SNAI2, and CDH2, CLDN3 could significantly suppress metastasis by inactivating the Wnt/β-catenin-epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) axis in HCC cells. Collectively, our findings demonstrated that CLDN3 is an epigenetically silenced metastasis suppressor gene in HCC. A better understanding of the molecular mechanism of CLDN3 in inhibiting liver cancer cell metastasis may lead to a more effective management of HCC patients with the inactivation of CLDN3.
PMCID: PMC4202152  PMID: 25277196
CLDN3; hepatocellular carcinoma; metastasis; survival
19.  CHD1L promotes hepatocellular carcinoma progression and metastasis in mice and is associated with these processes in human patients 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(4):1178-1191.
Chromodomain helicase/ATPase DNA binding protein 1–like gene (CHD1L) is a recently identified oncogene localized at 1q21, a frequently amplified region in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). To explore its oncogenic mechanisms, we set out to identify CHD1L-regulated genes using a chromatin immunoprecipitation–based (ChIP-based) cloning strategy in a human HCC cell line. We then further characterized 1 identified gene, ARHGEF9, which encodes a specific guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) for the Rho small GTPase Cdc42. Overexpression of ARHGEF9 was detected in approximately half the human HCC samples analyzed and positively correlated with CHD1L overexpression. In vitro and in vivo functional studies in mice showed that CHD1L contributed to tumor cell migration, invasion, and metastasis by increasing cell motility and inducing filopodia formation and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) via ARHGEF9-mediated Cdc42 activation. Silencing ARHGEF9 expression by RNAi effectively abolished the invasive and metastatic abilities of CHD1L in mice. Furthermore, investigation of clinical HCC specimens showed that CHD1L and ARHGEF9 were markedly overexpressed in metastatic HCC tissue compared with healthy tissue. Increased expression of CHD1L was often observed at the invasive front of HCC tumors and correlated with venous infiltration, microsatellite tumor nodule formation, and poor disease-free survival. These findings suggest that CHD1L-ARHGEF9-Cdc42-EMT might be a novel pathway involved in HCC progression and metastasis.
PMCID: PMC2846051  PMID: 20335658
20.  Epithelial-mesenchymal transition expression profiles as a prognostic factor for disease-free survival in hepatocellular carcinoma: Clinical significance of transforming growth factor-β signaling 
Oncology Letters  2012;5(1):149-154.
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays a pivotal role in cancer invasion and metastasis, and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β signaling is a potent inducer of EMT. However, the clinical significance of the correlation between EMT marker expression and TGF-β signaling in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients remains unknown. In this study, immunohistochemistry was used to analyze the expression of EMT markers and phospho-Smad2 nuclear positivity, and their association with clinicopathological features in 150 HCC patients. E-cadherinhigh/vimentinlow and E-cadherinlow/vimentinhigh expression profiles were determined in 55 (36.7%) and 21 (14.0%) patients, respectively. The E-cadherinlow/vimentinhigh expression profile was significantly correlated with poor tumor differentiation (P<0.001), vascular invasion (P=0.007) and extrahepatic recurrence following curative surgery (P=0.026). Furthermore, the E-cadherinlow/vimentinhigh expression profile was significantly correlated with shorter disease-free survival compared to E-cadherinhigh/vimentinlow (P=0.002). Forty-one patients (27.3%) were demonstrated to have high phospho-Smad2 nuclear positivity, which was significantly correlated with the E-cadherinlow/vimentinhigh expression profile (P<0.001). In conclusion, this study suggests that EMT expression profiles are useful prognostic markers for disease-free survival in HCC patients, and that the E-cadherinlow/vimentinhigh expression profile is closely associated with high-grade malignant behavior such as tumoral vascular invasion and metastasis in HCC. Additionally, TGF-β-mediated EMT may play an important role in the aggressiveness of HCC.
PMCID: PMC3525349  PMID: 23255911
TGF-β; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; hepatocellular carcinoma; Smad2
21.  Induction of an EMT-like transformation and MET in vitro 
The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition (MET) play pivotal roles in metastasis of epithelial cancers. The distinction between them has shed new light on the molecular mechanisms of tumor metastasis. Recently, tumor microenvironment (TM) has been identified as one of the most potent inducers of EMT and MET. TM is characterized by its complexity and flexibility. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the exact effect of each distinct TM component on the evolution hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) metastasis.
Two different cell culture models were used. The HCC cell line Bel-7402 was co-cultured with the normal liver cell line HL-7702 or with the retinal vascular endothelial cell line RF/6A in double-layer six-well plates, imitating the direct interaction between tumor-host cells and tumor cells. Bel-7402 was also cultured in the conditioned medium (CM) of the human lung fibroblast cell line MRC-5, HL-7702 or RF/6A, imitating an indirect interaction. Integrin β1, β3, β4, β7, laminin β3, E-cadherin and Snail levels were measured by quantitative RT-PCR in tumor sepecimens from 42 resected HCC.
We found that Bel-7402 cells co-cultured with HL-7702 or RF/6A cells were induced to undergo MET. The expression of E-cadherin, α-catenin and β-catenin was up-regulated, accompanied with a strengthened E-cadherin/catenin complex on the membrane of co-cultured Bel-7402 cells. Consequently, the invasion and migration ability of cells was declined. Conversely, Bel-7402 cells cultured in conditioned medium from MRC-5 cells underwent an EMT-like transformation as the cells became elongated with increased invasion and migration ability. Furthermore, we demonstrated that HL-7702 cells could generally inhibit the tumorigenicity and viability of Bel-7402 cells. We also found that integrin β1 expression was negatively associated with capsular formation, and that integrin β4 expression was negatively associated with CK19 expression.
Our findings highlight the strong influences exerted by TM on tumor progression through EMT and MET by impacting the expression of adhesion molecules, including the E-cadherin/catenin complex, laminins and integrins.
PMCID: PMC3716679  PMID: 23829659
Tumor microenvironment; EMT; MET; Co-culture; Conditioned medium culture
22.  Enhanced myeloid differentiation factor 88 promotes tumor metastasis via induction of epithelial–mesenchymal transition in human hepatocellular carcinoma 
Cell Death & Disease  2014;5(3):e1103-.
Metastasis is the leading cause of death in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) after curative resection. Therefore, it is critical to understand the mechanisms underlying tumor metastasis in HCC. We have previously shown that elevated expression of myeloid differentiation factor 88 (MyD88) may promote tumor growth and metastasis in HCC. In this study, we reported that enhanced expression of MyD88 promoted epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) properties and tumor-initiating capabilities in HCC cells. MyD88 was found to be able to interact with p85, a regulatory subunit of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3-K), independent of TLR/IL-1R-mediated response and caused PI3-K/v-akt murine thymoma viral oncogene homolog (Akt) activation, which resulted in subsequent phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β and stabilization of Snail, a critical EMT mediator. Consistently, we observed a significant correlation between MyD88 expression and p-Akt levels in a cohort of HCC patients, and found that the combination of these two parameters have better prognostic value for HCC patients. Taken together, these results suggest that elevated MyD88 may facilitate HCC metastasis by promoting EMT properties and tumor-initiating capabilities via PI3–K/Akt pathway.
PMCID: PMC3973199  PMID: 24603331
tumor metastasis; myeloid differentiation factor 88; epithelial–mesenchymal transition
23.  microRNA-122 as a regulator of mitochondrial metabolic gene network in hepatocellular carcinoma 
A moderate loss of miR-122 function correlates with up-regulation of seed-matched genes and down-regulation of mitochondrially localized genes in both human hepatocellular carcinoma and in normal mice treated with anti-miR-122 antagomir.Putative direct targets up-regulated with loss of miR-122 and secondary targets down-regulated with loss of miR-122 are conserved between human beings and mice and are rapidly regulated in vitro in response to miR-122 over- and under-expression.Loss of miR-122 secondary target expression in either tumorous or adjacent non-tumorous tissue predicts poor survival of heptatocellular carcinoma patients.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most aggressive human malignancies, common in Asia, Africa, and in areas with endemic infections of hepatitis-B or -C viruses (HBV or HCV) (But et al, 2008). Globally, the 5-year survival rate of HCC is <5% and about 600 000 HCC patients die each year. The high mortality associated with this disease is mainly attributed to the failure to diagnose HCC patients at an early stage and a lack of effective therapies for patients with advanced stage HCC. Understanding the relationships between phenotypic and molecular changes in HCC is, therefore, of paramount importance for the development of improved HCC diagnosis and treatment methods.
In this study, we examined mRNA and microRNA (miRNA)-expression profiles of tumor and adjacent non-tumor liver tissue from HCC patients. The patient population was selected from a region of endemic HBV infection, and HBV infection appears to contribute to the etiology of HCC in these patients. A total of 96 HCC patients were included in the study, of which about 88% tested positive for HBV antigen; patients testing positive for HCV antigen were excluded. Among the 220 miRNAs profiled, miR-122 was the most highly expressed miRNA in liver, and its expression was decreased almost two-fold in HCC tissue relative to adjacent non-tumor tissue, confirming earlier observations (Lagos-Quintana et al, 2002; Kutay et al, 2006; Budhu et al, 2008).
Over 1000 transcripts were correlated and over 1000 transcripts were anti-correlated with miR-122 expression. Consistent with the idea that transcripts anti-correlated with miR-122 are potential miR-122 targets, the most highly anti-correlated transcripts were highly enriched for the presence of the miR-122 central seed hexamer, CACTCC, in the 3′UTR. Although the complete set of negatively correlated genes was enriched for cell-cycle genes, the subset of seed-matched genes had no significant KEGG Pathway annotation, suggesting that miR-122 is unlikely to directly regulate the cell cycle in these patients. In contrast, transcripts positively correlated with miR-122 were not enriched for 3′UTR seed matches to miR-122. Interestingly, these 1042 transcripts were enriched for genes coding for mitochondrially localized proteins and for metabolic functions.
To analyze the impact of loss of miR-122 in vivo, silencing of miR-122 was performed by antisense inhibition (anti-miR-122) in wild-type mice (Figure 3). As with the genes negatively correlated with miR-122 in HCC patients, no significant biological annotation was associated with the seed-matched genes up-regulated by anti-miR-122 in mouse livers. The most significantly enriched biological annotation for anti-miR-122 down-regulated genes, as for positively correlated genes in HCC, was mitochondrial localization; the down-regulated mitochondrial genes were enriched for metabolic functions. Putative direct and downstream targets with orthologs on both the human and mouse microarrays showed significant overlap for regulations in the same direction. These overlaps defined sets of putative miR-122 primary and secondary targets. The results were further extended in the analysis of a separate dataset from 180 HCC, 40 cirrhotic, and 6 normal liver tissue samples (Figure 4), showing anti-correlation of proposed primary and secondary targets in non-healthy tissues.
To validate the direct correlation between miR-122 and some of the primary and secondary targets, we determined the expression of putative targets after transfection of miR-122 mimetic into PLC/PRF/5 HCC cells, including the putative direct targets SMARCD1 and MAP3K3 (MEKK3), a target described in the literature, CAT-1 (SLC7A1), and three putative secondary targets, PPARGC1A (PGC-1α) and succinate dehydrogenase subunits A and B. As expected, the putative direct targets showed reduced expression, whereas the putative secondary target genes showed increased expression in cells over-expressing miR-122 (Figure 4).
Functional classification of genes using the total ancestry method (Yu et al, 2007) identified PPARGC1A (PGC-1α) as the most connected secondary target. PPARGC1A has been proposed to function as a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis (Ventura-Clapier et al, 2008), suggesting that loss of PPARGC1A expression may contribute to the loss of mitochondrial gene expression correlated with loss of miR-122 expression. To further validate the link of miR-122 and PGC-1α protein, we transfected PLC/PRF/5 cells with miR-122-expression vector, and observed an increase in PGC-1α protein levels. Importantly, transfection of both miR-122 mimetic and miR-122-expression vector significantly reduced the lactate content of PLC/PRF/5 cells, whereas anti-miR-122 treatment increased lactate production. Together, the data support the function of miR-122 in mitochondrial metabolic functions.
Patient survival was not directly associated with miR-122-expression levels. However, miR-122 secondary targets were expressed at significantly higher levels in both tumor and adjacent non-tumor tissues among survivors as compared with deceased patients, providing supporting evidence for the potential relevance of loss of miR-122 function in HCC patient morbidity and mortality.
Overall, our findings reveal potentially new biological functions for miR-122 in liver physiology. We observed decreased expression of miR-122, a liver-specific miRNA, in HBV-associated HCC, and loss of miR-122 seemed to correlate with the decrease of mitochondrion-related metabolic pathway gene expression in HCC and in non-tumor liver tissues, a result that is consistent with the outcome of treatment of mice with anti-miR-122 and is of prognostic significance for HCC patients. Further investigation will be conducted to dissect the regulatory function of miR-122 on mitochondrial metabolism in HCC and to test whether increasing miR-122 expression can improve mitochondrial function in liver and perhaps in liver tumor tissues. Moreover, these results support the idea that primary targets of a given miRNA may be distributed over a variety of functional categories while resulting in a coordinated secondary response, potentially through synergistic action (Linsley et al, 2007).
Tumorigenesis involves multistep genetic alterations. To elucidate the microRNA (miRNA)–gene interaction network in carcinogenesis, we examined their genome-wide expression profiles in 96 pairs of tumor/non-tumor tissues from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Comprehensive analysis of the coordinate expression of miRNAs and mRNAs reveals that miR-122 is under-expressed in HCC and that increased expression of miR-122 seed-matched genes leads to a loss of mitochondrial metabolic function. Furthermore, the miR-122 secondary targets, which decrease in expression, are good prognostic markers for HCC. Transcriptome profiling data from additional 180 HCC and 40 liver cirrhotic patients in the same cohort were used to confirm the anti-correlation of miR-122 primary and secondary target gene sets. The HCC findings can be recapitulated in mouse liver by silencing miR-122 with antagomir treatment followed by gene-expression microarray analysis. In vitro miR-122 data further provided a direct link between induction of miR-122-controlled genes and impairment of mitochondrial metabolism. In conclusion, miR-122 regulates mitochondrial metabolism and its loss may be detrimental to sustaining critical liver function and contribute to morbidity and mortality of liver cancer patients.
PMCID: PMC2950084  PMID: 20739924
hepatocellular carcinoma; microarray; miR-122; mitochondrial; survival
24.  A synthetic dsRNA, as a TLR3 pathwaysynergist, combined with sorafenib suppresses HCC in vitro and in vivo 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:527.
Recent studies have demonstrated that synthetic dsRNAs may produce therapeutic effects in a target-independent manner through stimulation of the toll-like receptor-3 (TLR3)/interferon pathway; as a result, angiogenesis and proliferation of tumor cells are inhibited. Thus, this pathway may become a potential target of dsRNA in tumor suppression. In this study, we evaluated the role of synthetic dsRNA as a TLR3 synergist and by combining with sorafenib in anti-hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in vitro and in vivo.
Four dsRNAs were designed and synthesized. One of them that was capable of activating TLR3 most effectively in human HCC cell line (HepG2.2.15) was selected as a TLR3 synergist (called BM-06). Subsequently, the expression of proteins relating to TLR3 signaling pathway, such as NF-κB, caspase 8 survivin, bcl-2 and PCNA affected by BM-06, sorafenib alone or in combination, was compared. The migration, proliferation and apoptosis of HepG2.2.15 cells were evaluated in presence of BM-06, sorafenib alone or in combination of both. The similar treatments were also applied in an SD rat primary HCC model.
qRT-PCR data showed that the expression of TLR3 and NF-κB in HepG2.2.15 cells was enhanced. BM-06 was selected as a TLR3 synergist capable of activating the TLR3/interferon pathway most effective among 4 synthetic dsRNAs. The migration and proliferation were significantly inhibited in treated HepG2.2.15 cells with BM-06 or Sorafenib alone as compared with PBS-sham control (P < 0.01). However, the role of combination BM-06 with Sorafenib was the most prominent. Tumor cell apoptotic rate was increased by BM-06 or combination when compared to PBS or poly(I:C) (P < 0.05). Similarly, in orthotopic HCC SD rats, the effect of the combination was superior to either agent alone on the inhibition of tumor growth and induction of HCC cell apoptosis (P < 0.05).
dsRNA alone was capable of inhibiting the proliferation of HepG2.2.15 cells and tumor growth of orthotopic HCC SD rats, but the effect of combination of dsRNA with sorafenib was more prominent. These findings implicate the potential role of combined use of a dsRNA, a TLR3 synergist, and sorafenib in inhibition of HCC.
PMCID: PMC3827827  PMID: 24195809
dsRNA; TLR3; NF-κB; sorafenib; HCC
25.  COX-2 and Akt mediate multiple growth factor-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition in human hepatocellular carcinoma 
Background and Aim
Cancer invasion and metastasis are characterized by epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) causes metastasis and significant mortality. Elucidating factors promoting EMT in HCC is necessary to develop effective therapeutic strategies.
The LH86 cell line was developed in our laboratory from well-differentiated HCC without associated hepatitis or cirrhosis and used as a model to study EMT in HCC. Effects of transforming growth factor (TGF) β-1, epidermal growth factor (EGF), hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) were examined using morphology, molecular markers, effects on migration and tumorigenicity. The involvement of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and Akt were examined.
LH86 cells display epithelial morphology. TGFβ-1, EGF, HGF and bFGF induced mesenchymal changes in them associated with loss of E-cadherin, albumin, α-1 anti-trypsin expression and increased expression of vimentin, collagen I and fibronectin. There was associated increased migration, tumorigenicity and increased expression of COX-2, PGE2, Akt and phosphorylated Akt. Inhibition of COX-2 and Akt pathways led to inhibition of characteristics of EMT.
Multiple growth factors induce EMT in HCC. COX-2 and Akt may mediate EMT associated development and progression of HCC and molecular targeting of COX-2 and Akt may be an effective therapeutic or chemopreventative strategy in advanced and metastatic HCC.
PMCID: PMC3288221  PMID: 22097969
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Growth factors; Cyclooxygenase-2; Chemoprevention

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