Cyclooxygenase-2 promotes hepatocellular carcinoma cell growth through Akt activation: evidence for Akt inhibition in celecoxib-induced apoptosis

Hepatology. 2003 Sep;38(3):756-68. doi: 10.1053/jhep.2003.50380.


Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2)-controlled prostaglandin (PG) metabolism recently has been implicated in the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the biologic role and molecular mechanism of COX-2-mediated PGs in the control of liver cancer growth have not been established. This study was designed to examine the direct effect of COX-2 and its inhibitor celecoxib on the growth control of liver cancer cells. Human HCC cell lines Hep3B and HepG2 transfected with COX-2 expression vector showed increased cell growth and enhanced phosphorylation of serine/threonine protein kinase B (Akt). The level of COX-2 expression and Akt phosphorylation is correlated positively in cultured HCC cells and human liver cancer tissues. Inhibition of Akt activation by phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-kinase) inhibitor LY294002 significantly decreased the viability of Hep3B and HepG2 cells (P <.01). These results reveal a novel role of Akt activation in COX-2-induced HCC cell survival. Furthermore, HCC cells treated with the COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib showed significant reduction of Akt phosphorylation and marked morphologic and biochemical characteristics of apoptosis. Overexpression of COX-2 or addition of exogenous PGE(2) partially prevented celecoxib-induced apoptosis (P <.01). In conclusion, our results suggest the involvement of COX-2-dependent and -independent mechanisms in celecoxib-mediated HCC cell apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / enzymology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Celecoxib
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Dinoprostone / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism*
  • Isoenzymes / pharmacology
  • Liver Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phosphorylation
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism*
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / pharmacology
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Pyrazoles
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Pyrazoles
  • Sulfonamides
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases
  • AKT1 protein, human
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Celecoxib
  • Dinoprostone