The poor response to drug therapy often seen in hepatocellular carcinoma requires insight into the molecular interplay responsible for intrinsic or acquired drug resistance. We previously demonstrated that the CD133-/EpCAM- subpopulation of the Huh-7 hepatoma cell line features aberrant activation of the hedgehog signaling (Hh) pathway and chemoresistance. The prevailing hypothesis of the present study is that hedgehog signaling may govern expression of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters, which are responsible for drug resistance in the CD133-/EpCAM- subpopulation. Our aim is to reveal the molecular interplay in the mediation of drug resistance with a newly established Huh-7 subpopulation featuring high Hh signaling activity and drug resistance. In this study, chemoresistance was determined in a newly established Huh-7-DN subpopulation featuring the CD133-/EpCAM- surface marker profile, aberrant expression of Hh pathway, and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Expression of ABC transporter proteins (ABCB1, ABCC1, and ABCG2) and Hh transcription factor Gli-1/2 was evaluated with and without Hh signaling antagonists LDE225 or itraconazole. We found that hedgehog signaling activity as determined by transfection with a Gli-Lux reporter cassette and gene expression levels tended to increase from Huh-7 CD133+/EpCAM+ to CD133-/EpCAM-, and the highest levels were found in Huh-7-DN cells. The Huh-7-DN subpopulation exhibited characteristics of EMT as evidenced by increased expression of vimentin and loss of E-cadherin. Sorafenib significantly inhibited the viability of all subpopulations except the Huh-7-DN subpopulation. Compared with other sorafenib-sensitive subpopulations, the Huh-7-DN subpopulation showed enhanced expression of Hh transcription factor Gli-2 and ABCC1 transporter protein. Silencing Gli-2 by lentivirus harboring shRNA against Gli-2 or LDE225 significantly suppressed expression of Gli-2 and ABCC1 genes in Huh-7-DN subpopulation. In conclusion, aberrant hedgehog signaling activation is linked to poor differentiation, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and chemoresistance in the Huh-7-DN subpopulation. Hedgehog signaling transcription factor Gli-2 appears to be the primary regulator for drug sensitivity of hepatoma through the ABCC1 transporter.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology