Wild type Kirsten rat sarcoma is a novel microRNA-622-regulated therapeutic target for hepatocellular carcinoma and contributes to sorafenib resistance

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ObjectiveSorafenib is the only effective therapy for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Combinatory approaches targeting mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)- and phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate-3-kinase (PI3K)/protein-kinase B(AKT) signalling yield major therapeutic improvements. RAS proteins regulate both RAF/MAPK and PI3K/AKT signalling. However, the most important RAS isoform in carcinogenesis, Kirsten rat sarcoma (KRAS), remains unexplored in HCC.DesignHuman HCC tissues and cell lines were used for expression and functional analysis. Sorafenib-resistant HCC cells were newly generated. RNA interference and the novel small molecule deltarasin were used for KRAS inhibition both in vitro and in a murine syngeneic orthotopic HCC model.ResultsExpression of wild type KRAS messenger RNA and protein was increased in HCC and correlated with extracellular-signal regulated kinase (ERK) activation, proliferation rate, advanced tumour size and poor patient survival. Bioinformatic analysis and reporter assays revealed that KRAS is a direct target of microRNA-622. This microRNA was downregulated in HCC, and functional analysis demonstrated that KRAS-suppression is the major mediator of its inhibitory effect on HCC proliferation. KRAS inhibition markedly suppressed RAF/ERK and PI3K/AKT signalling and proliferation and enhanced apoptosis of HCC cells in vitro and in vivo. Combinatory KRAS inhibition and sorafenib treatment revealed synergistic antitumorigenic effects in HCC. Sorafenib-resistant HCC cells showed elevated KRAS expression, and KRAS inhibition resensitised sorafenib-resistant cells to suppression of proliferation and induction of apoptosis.ConclusionsKRAS is dysregulated in HCC by loss of tumour-suppressive microRNA-622, contributing to tumour progression, sorafenib sensitivity and resistance. KRAS inhibition alone or in combination with sorafenib appears as novel promising therapeutic strategy for HCC.

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