The ectodomain of major histocompatibility complex class I-related chain A (MICA) is shed from tumor cells, and may be an important means of evading antitumor immunity. This study investigated the roles of a disintegrin and metalloproteinase 9 (ADAM9) in the shedding of MICA in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Small interfering RNA-mediated knockdown (KD) of ADAM9 resulted in up-regulation of membrane-bound MICA expression on the HepG2 and PLC/PRF/5 cellular surfaces and down-regulation of soluble MICA levels in their culture supernatant. ADAM9 was cleaved at a site between Gln347 and Val348 of MICA in vitro. We constructed a plasmid of the MICA gene with mutation or deletion of the ADAM9 cleavage site to examine the detailed mechanism of MICA shedding by ADAM9 protease. The results suggested that MICA might be cleaved at the intracellular ADAM9-recognized cleavage site and was further cleaved at the extracellular ADAM9-independent cleavage site in HCC cells, resulting in the production of soluble MICA. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that ADAM9 was overexpressed in human HCC compared to normal liver tissues. The cytolytic activity of natural killer (NK) cells against ADAM9KD-HCC cells was higher than that against control cells, and the enhancement of this cytotoxicity depended on the MICA/B and NK group 2, member D pathway. Sorafenib treatment resulted in decreased expression of ADAM9, increased expression of membrane-bound MICA expression, and decreased levels of soluble MICA in HCC cells. Adding sorafenib enhanced the NK sensitivity of HCC cells via increased expression of membrane-bound MICA.
Conclusion: ADAM9 is involved in MICA ectodomain shedding in HCC cells, and sorafenib can modulate ADAM9 expression. Sorafenib therapy may have a previously unrecognized effect on antitumor immunity in patients with HCC.