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The incidence and mortality of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are on a rise in the Western countries including US, attributed mostly to late detection. Sorafenib has been the first-line FDA-approved drug for advanced unresectable HCC for almost a decade, but with limited efficacy due to the development of resistance. More recently, several other multi-kinase inhibitors (lenvatinib, cabozantinib, regorafenib), human monoclonal antibody (ramucirumab), and immune checkpoint inhibitors (nivolumab, pembrolizumab) have been approved as systemic therapies. Despite this, the median survival of patients is not significantly increased. Understanding of the molecular mechanism(s) that govern HCC resistance is critically needed to increase efficacy of current drugs and to develop more efficacious ones in the future. Our studies with sorafenib-resistant (soraR) HCC cells using transcription factor RT2 Profiler PCR Arrays revealed an increase in E26 transformation-specific-1 (Ets-1) transcription factor in all soraR cells. HCC TMA studies showed an increase in Ets-1 expression in advanced HCC compared to the normal livers. Overexpression or knocking down Ets-1 modulated sorafenib resistance-related epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), migration, and cell survival. In addition, the soraR cells showed a significant reduction of mitochondrial damage and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS) generation, which were antagonized by knocking down Ets-1 expression. More in-depth analysis identified GPX-2 as a downstream mediator of Ets-1-induced sorafenib resistance, which was down-regulated by Ets-1 knockdown while other antioxidant pathway genes were not affected. Interestingly, knocking down GPX2 expression significantly increased sorafenib sensitivity in the soraR cells. Our studies indicate the activation of a novel Ets-1-GPX2 signaling axis in soraR cells, targeting which might successfully antagonize resistance and increase efficacy. © 2022. This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply.


Kanchan Vishnoi, Rong Ke, Navin Viswakarma, Piush Srivastava, Sandeep Kumar, Subhasis Das, Sunil Kumar Singh, Daniel R Principe, Ajay Rana, Basabi Rana. Ets1 mediates sorafenib resistance by regulating mitochondrial ROS pathway in hepatocellular carcinoma. Cell death & disease. 2022 Jul 04;13(7):581

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PMID: 35789155

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