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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e55945. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055945. Epub 2013 Feb 8.

Suppression of natural killer cells by sorafenib contributes to prometastatic effects in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Liver Cancer Institute and Zhongshan Hospital, Fudan University, Key Laboratory for Carcinogenesis and Cancer Invasion, The Chinese Ministry of Education, Shanghai, PR China.


Sorafenib, a multi-tyrosine kinase inhibitor, is a standard treatment for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The present study was undertaken to determine whether the growth and metastasis of HCC were influenced in mice receiving sorafenib prior to implantation with tumors, and to investigate the in-vivo and in-vitro effect of sorafenib on natural killer (NK) cells. In sorafenib-pretreated BALB/c nu/nu mice and C57BL/6 mice, tumor growth was accelerated, mouse survival was decreased, and lung metastasis was increased. However, the depletion of NK1.1(+) cells in C57BL/6 mice eliminated sorafenib-mediated pro-metastatic effects. Sorafenib significantly reduced the number of NK cells and inhibited reactivity of NK cells against tumor cells, in both tumor-bearing and tumor-free C57BL/6 mice. Sorafenib down-regulated the stimulatory receptor CD69 in NK cells of tumor-bearing mice, but not in tumor-free mice, and inhibited proliferation of NK92-MI cells, which is associated with the blocking of the PI3K/AKT pathway, and inhibited cytotoxicity of NK cells in response to tumor targets, which was due to impaired ERK phosphorylation. These results suggest immunotherapeutic approaches activating NK cells may enhance the therapeutic efficacy of sorafenib in HCC patients.

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