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Int J Hyperthermia. 2019;36(1):253-263. doi: 10.1080/02656736.2018.1558459. Epub 2019 Jan 31.

Activated hepatic stellate cells promote progression of post-heat residual hepatocellular carcinoma from autophagic survival to proliferation.

Author information

1
a Zhongshan Hospital Fudan University and Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Cancer Invasion Ministry of Education, Liver Cancer Institute , Shanghai , China.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Microscopic residual tumor often occurs after thermal ablation for medium-large hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), leading to early aggressive recurrence or late relapse during follow-up. The mechanism how microscopic residual HCC cells survive sublethal heat stress and develop rapid outgrowth remains poorly understood.

METHODS:

HCC cells were exposed to sublethal heat treatment and co-cultured with conditioned media from activated HSCs (HSC-CM). Changes of cell proliferation, parameters of cell autophagy and activation of signaling pathways in heat-treated residual HCC cells were analyzed. An HCC orthotopic model was subjected to partial thermal ablation and antitumor effects of a combined treatment regimen were studied.

RESULTS:

HCC cells survived sublethal heat stress via activation of autophagy. HSC-CM enhanced autophagic survival within 24 h and then promoted proliferation of heat-treated residual HCC cells through HGF/c-Met signaling. Inhibition of autophagy or c-Met increased apoptosis of heat-treated residual HCC cells and reversed the protective effect of HSC-CM. HGF modulated biological status in autophagic survival or proliferation of heat-treated residual HCC through HGF/c-Met/ERK signaling and downstream components of ATG5/Beclin1 or cyclinD1. In an animal model, inhibiting autophagy in combination with c-Met inhibitor significantly thwarted tumor progression of residual HCC after incomplete thermal ablation via the suppressed autophagy, the decreased proliferation and the increased apoptosis.

CONCLUSIONS:

Activated HSCs promote progression of residual HCC cells after sublethal heat treatment from autophagic survival to proliferation via HGF/c-Met signaling. A combined treatment regimen of inhibiting autophagy and c-Met signaling could be used to suppress tumor progression of residual HCC after incomplete thermal ablation.

KEYWORDS:

Hepatocellular carcinoma; autophagy; hepatic stellate cells; hepatocyte growth factor; proliferation

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