Melatonin overcomes apoptosis resistance in human hepatocellular carcinoma by targeting Survivin and XIAP

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Apoptosis resistance in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most significant factors for hepatocarcinogenesis and tumor progression, and leads to resistance to conventional chemotherapy. It is well known that inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs) play key roles in apoptosis resistance, it has become an important target for antitumor therapy. In this study, we examined if melatonin, the main secretory product of the pineal gland, targeted IAPs, leading to the inhibition of apoptosis resistance. To accomplish this, we first observed that four members of IAPs (cIAP-1, cIAP-2, Survivin, and XIAP) were overexpressed in human HCC tissue. Interestingly, melatonin significantly inhibited the growth of HepG2 and SMMC-7721 cells and promoted apoptosis along with the downregulation of Survivin and XIAP, but had no effect on the expression of cIAP-1 and cIAP-2. These data suggest that the inhibition of Survivin and XIAP by melatonin may play an important part in reversing apoptosis resistance. Notably, cIAP-1, Survivin and XIAP were significantly associated with the coexpression of COX-2 in human HCC specimens. Melatonin also reduced the expression of COX-2 and inhibited AKT activation in HepG2 and SMMC-7721 cells. Inhibition of COX-2 activity with the selective inhibitor, NS398, and inhibition of AKT activation using the PI3K inhibitor, LY294002, in tumor cells confirmed that melatonin-induced apoptosis was COX-2/PI3K/AKT-dependent, suggesting that the COX-2/PI3K/AKT pathway plays a role in melatonin inhibition of IAPs. Taken together, these results suggest that melatonin overcomes apoptosis resistance by the suppressing Survivin and XIAP via the COX-2/PI3K/AKT pathway in HCC cells.

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