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J Biol Chem. 2009 Nov 13;284(46):32015-27. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.016774. Epub 2009 Sep 2.

MicroRNA-122 inhibits tumorigenic properties of hepatocellular carcinoma cells and sensitizes these cells to sorafenib.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


MicroRNAs are negative regulators of protein coding genes. The liver-specific microRNA-122 (miR-122) is frequently suppressed in primary hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). In situ hybridization demonstrated that miR-122 is abundantly expressed in hepatocytes but barely detectable in primary human HCCs. Ectopic expression of miR-122 in nonexpressing HepG2, Hep3B, and SK-Hep-1 cells reversed their tumorigenic properties such as growth, replication potential, clonogenic survival, anchorage-independent growth, migration, invasion, and tumor formation in nude mice. Further, miR-122-expressing HCC cells retained an epithelial phenotype that correlated with reduced Vimentin expression. ADAM10 (a distintegrin and metalloprotease family 10), serum response factor (SRF), and insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (Igf1R) that promote tumorigenesis were validated as targets of miR-122 and were repressed by the microRNA. Conversely, depletion of the endogenous miR-122 in Huh-7 cells facilitated their tumorigenic properties with concomitant up-regulation of these targets. Expression of SRF or Igf1R partially reversed tumor suppressor function of miR-122. Further, miR-122 impeded angiogenic properties of endothelial cells in vitro. Notably, ADAM10, SRF, and Igf1R were up-regulated in primary human HCCs compared with the matching liver tissue. Co-labeling studies demonstrated exclusive localization of miR-122 in the benign livers, whereas SRF predominantly expressed in HCC. More importantly, growth and clonogenic survival of miR-122-expressing HCC cells were significantly reduced upon treatment with sorafenib, a multi-kinase inhibitor clinically effective against HCC. Collectively, these results suggest that the loss of multifunctional miR-122 contributes to the malignant phenotype of HCC cells, and miR-122 mimetic alone or in combination with anticancer drugs can be a promising therapeutic regimen against liver cancer.

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