Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common cancer-related causes of death worldwide. Due to very poor 5-year-survival new therapeutic approaches are mandatory. Most HCCs express insulin-like growth factors and their receptors (IGF-R). As IGF-1R-mediated signaling promotes survival, oncogenic transformation and tumor growth and spread, it represents a potential target for innovative treatment strategies of HCC. Here we studied the antineoplastic effects of inhibiting IGF-1R signaling in HCC cells by the novel IGF-1R tyrosine kinase inhibitor NVP-AEW541.
Methods and results: NVP-AEW541 induced a time- and dose-dependent growth inhibition in the human hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines SK-Hep-1, Hep-3B, Hep-G2 and Huh-7. Measurement of LDH-release showed that the antineoplastic effect of NVP-AEW541 was not due to cytotoxicity. Instead NVP-AEW541 induced apoptosis as evidenced by both caspase-3 and -8 activation as well as by apoptosis-specific morphological and mitochondrial changes. In addition, nuclear degradation was monitored by DNA-laddering. NVP-AEW541-treatment suppressed the expression of the antiapoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and survivin, while the expression of the proapoptotic protein BAX was stimulated in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, NVP-AEW541 arrested the cell cycle at the G1/S checkpoint. When NVP-AEW541 was combined with cytotoxic chemotherapy or with a specific epidermal growth factor receptor antibody additive antiproliferative effects were observed.
Interpretation: Inhibition of IGF-1R tyrosine kinase (IGF-1R-TK) by NVP-AEW541 induces growth inhibition, apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in human HCC cell lines without accompanying cytotoxicity. Thus, IGF-1R-TK inhibition may be a promising novel treatment approach in HCC.