Sorafenib inhibits the hepatocyte growth factor-mediated epithelial mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma

Tomoyuki Nagai, Tokuzo Arao, Kazuyuki Furuta, Kazuko Sakai, Kanae Kudo, Hiroyasu Kaneda, Daisuke Tamura, Keiichi Aomatsu, Hideharu Kimura, Yoshihiko Fujita, Kazuko Matsumoto, Nagahiro Saijo, Masatoshi Kudo, Kazuto Nishio
Molecular Cancer Therapeutics 2011, 10 (1): 169-77
The epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) has emerged as a pivotal event in the development of the invasive and metastatic potentials of cancer progression. Sorafenib, a VEGFR inhibitor with activity against RAF kinase, is active against hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); however, the possible involvement of sorafenib in the EMT remains unclear. Here, we examined the effect of sorafenib on the EMT. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) induced EMT-like morphologic changes and the upregulation of SNAI1 and N-cadherin expression. The downregulation of E-cadherin expression in HepG2 and Huh7 HCC cell lines shows that HGF mediates the EMT in HCC. The knockdown of SNAI1 using siRNA canceled the HGF-mediated morphologic changes and cadherin switching, indicating that SNAI1 is required for the HGF-mediated EMT in HCC. Interestingly, sorafenib and the MEK inhibitor U0126 markedly inhibited the HGF-induced morphologic changes, SNAI1 upregulation, and cadherin switching, whereas the PI3 kinase inhibitor wortmannin did not. Collectively, these findings indicate that sorafenib downregulates SNAI1 expression by inhibiting mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling, thereby inhibiting the EMT in HCC cells. In fact, a wound healing and migration assay revealed that sorafenib completely canceled the HGF-mediated cellular migration in HCC cells. In conclusion, we found that sorafenib exerts a potent inhibitory activity against the EMT by inhibiting MAPK signaling and SNAI1 expression in HCC. Our findings may provide a novel insight into the anti-EMT effect of tyrosine kinase inhibitors in cancer cells.

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