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J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2014 Sep 18;33:76. doi: 10.1186/s13046-014-0076-7.

MICA/B expression is inhibited by unfolded protein response and associated with poor prognosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma.



MICA/B are major ligands for NK cell activating receptor NKG2D and previous studies showed that the serum level of soluble MICA (sMICA) is an independent prognostic factor for advanced human hepatocellular carcinoma. However, the correlation between cellular MICA/B expression pattern and human hepatocellular carcinoma progression has not been well explored. The unfolded protein response is one of the main causes of resistance to chemotherapy and radiotherapy in tumor cells. However, whether the UPR in HCC could regulate the expression levels of MICA/B and affect the sensitivity of HCC cells to NK cell cytolysis has not been established yet.


MICA/B expression pattern was evaluated by immunohistochemistry and Kaplan-Meier survival analysis was done to explore the relationship between MICA/B expression level and patient survival. The protein and mRNA expression levels of MICA/B in SMMC7721 and HepG2 cells treated by tunicamycin were evaluated by flow cytometry, Western Blot and RT-PCR. The cytotoxicity analysis was performed with the CytoTox 96 Non-Radioactive LDH Cytotoxicity Assay.


MICA/B was highly expressed in human hepatocellular carcinoma and the expression level was significantly and negatively associated with tumor-node metastasis (TNM) stages. Patients with low level of MICA/B expression showed a trend of shorter survival time. The unfolded protein response (UPR) downregulated the expression of MICA/B. This decreased protein expression occurred via post-transcriptional regulation and was associated with proteasomal degradation. Moreover, decreased expression level of MICA/B led to the attenuated sensitivity of human HCC to NK cell cytotoxicity.


These new findings of the connection of MICA/B, UPR and NK cells may represent a new concrete theory of NK cell regulation in HCC, and suggest that targeting this novel NK cell-associated immune evasion pathway may be meaningful in treating patients with HCC.

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