Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) represents a highly vascularized tumor entity and the process of angiogenesis is essential for the growth of HCC. Importantly, the pro-angiogenic transcription factors HIF-1alpha and STAT3 have been implicated in HCC progression, thus representing interesting targets for molecular targeted therapy. We hypothesized that therapeutic inhibition of HIF-1alpha could be achieved by using a novel tubulin-binding agent (ENMD-1198). ENMD-1198 is an analog of 2-methoxyestradiol (2ME2) with antiproliferative and antiangiogenic activity.
Methods: The human HCC cell lines HUH-7 and HepG2 were used for experiments. Effects of ENMD-1198 on constitutive and inducible (hypoxia, growth factors) activation of signaling cascades, including HIF-1alpha and STAT3, were investigated by Western blotting. Changes in VEGF expression were determined by real-time PCR. Effects of ENMD-1198 on cancer cell migration and invasion were evaluated in in vitro-assays. The growth-inhibitory effects of ENMD-1198 (200 mg/kg/day) were determined in a subcutaneous tumor model (HUH-7).
Results: ENMD-1198 inhibited the phosphorylation of MAPK/Erk, PI-3K/Akt and FAK. Moreover, activation of HIF-1alpha and STAT3 was dramatically reduced by ENMD-1198, which resulted in lower VEGF mRNA expression (P < 0.05). In addition, tumor cell migratory and invasive properties were significantly inhibited (P < 0.05, for both). In vivo, treatment with ENMD-1198 led to a significant reduction in tumor growth, tumor vascularization, and numbers of proliferating tumor cells (P < 0.05 for all).
Conclusion: The novel microtubule destabilizing agent ENMD-1198 is suitable for inhibiting HIF-1alpha and STAT3 in human HCC cells and leads to reduced tumor growth and vascularization in vivo. Hence, inhibition of HIF-1alpha and STAT3 could prove valuable for therapy of hepatocellular carcinoma.