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Lack of hepatic stimulator substance expression promotes hepatocellular carcinoma metastasis partly through ERK-activated epithelial–mesenchymal transition

Laboratory Investigation (2018) | Download Citation


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most lethal malignancies due to its high frequency of metastasis via the epithelialmesenchymal transition (EMT) pathway. Hepatic stimulator substance (HSS) can protect hepatocytes from injury and promote liver growth. Recent studies indicated that HSS expression is increased in HCC tissues; however, whether HSS expression is potentially associated with HCC metastasis, particularly through the EMT pathway, remains largely unknown. In this study, the relationship between HSS expression and HCC metastasis was investigated in clinical samples of HCC. Meanwhile, the regulation of HCC metastasis and EMT progression by HSS were also analyzed in both in vitro and in vivo models. The results showed that the expression of 23 kDa HSS was significantly decreased among HCC tissues with angioinvasion. A decrease in HSS predicted poor prognosis with a lower survival rate. Furthermore, the growth of xenograft tumors after inoculating MHCC97H-HSS-shRNA (HCC) cells into nude mice was notably accelerated compared to those inoculated with HSS-expressing cells. Further analysis revealed that knockdown of HSS expression in both MHCC97H and HepG2 cells could enhance the migration of these HCC cells. Concurrently, interference of HSS expression by shRNA promoted conversion of morphologically epithelial-like HCC cells into mesenchymal-like cells, together with downregulations of epithelial markers (such as E-cadherin and zonula occludens-1) and upregulation of mesenchymal-like makers (such as α-SMA, β-catenin, and fibronectin). Furthermore, it was demonstrated that, as well as promoting EMT, HSS-shRNA induced the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and elevated the expression of the EMT-related transcription factor Snail. Specific inhibition of HSS-shRNA-induced ERK phosphorylation by PD98059 attenuated HCC cell migration in a dose-dependent manner. In conclusion, we demonstrated that downregulation of HSS expression contributes to HCC metastasis partially through the ERK-activated EMT pathway.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [No. 31371169].

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Xiao-wei Jia and Zi-wei Li.


  1. Department of Cell Biology and the Municipal Laboratory of Liver Protection and Regulation of Regeneration, Capital Medical University, 10 You An Men Wai Xi Tou Tiao, 100069, Beijing, China

    • Xiao-wei Jia
    • , Zi-wei Li
    • , Ling-yue Dong
    • , Guang-yong Sun
    • , Xin Wang
    • , Jian Gao
    • , Yi-peng Li
    • , Yuan Wu
    •  & Wei An


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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Wei An.

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