Induction of Bim expression contributes to the antitumor synergy between sorafenib and mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase inhibitor CI-1040 in hepatocellular carcinoma

Da-Liang Ou, Ying-Chun Shen, Ja-Der Liang, Jun-Yang Liou, Sung-Liang Yu, Hsiang-Hsuan Fan, Da-Sheng Wang, Yen-Shen Lu, Chiun Hsu, Ann-Lii Cheng
Clinical Cancer Research 2009 September 15, 15 (18): 5820-8

PURPOSE: Sorafenib has proved survival benefit for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This study explored whether the efficacy of sorafenib can be improved by adding the mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) kinase (MEK) inhibitor CI-1040 to vertically block the Raf/MEK/ERK pathway.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: The growth inhibitory effects of sorafenib and CI-1040 were tested in HCC cell lines (Huh-7 and Hep3B) and human umbilical vascular endothelial cells (HUVEC). The potential synergistic growth inhibitory effects were measured by median effect analysis. Apoptosis was measured by flow cytometry. The effects on ERK phosphorylation and levels of apoptosis regulatory proteins were measured by Western blotting. The in vivo antitumor activity of sorafenib and CI-1040 were tested in xenograft HCC models.

RESULTS: Combination of sorafenib and CI-1040 synergistically inhibited ERK phosphorylation and cell growth and induced apoptosis in both HCC cells and HUVECs. Increased expression of Bim protein, which correlated with the extent of ERK inhibition, was found in both HCC cells and HUVECs. Knockdown of Bim expression by small interfering RNA partially abrogated the synergistic proapoptotic effects of sorafenib and CI-1040. Combination therapy inhibited tumor growth significantly better than either single agent in the xenograft models.

CONCLUSION: The antitumor effects of sorafenib in HCC can be improved by vertical blockade of Raf/MEK/ERK signaling with CI-1040.

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