Sorafenib inhibits the hepatocyte growth factor-mediated epithelial mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma

Mol Cancer Ther. 2011 Jan;10(1):169-77. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-10-0544.


The epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) has emerged as a pivotal event in the development of the invasive and metastatic potentials of cancer progression. Sorafenib, a VEGFR inhibitor with activity against RAF kinase, is active against hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); however, the possible involvement of sorafenib in the EMT remains unclear. Here, we examined the effect of sorafenib on the EMT. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) induced EMT-like morphologic changes and the upregulation of SNAI1 and N-cadherin expression. The downregulation of E-cadherin expression in HepG2 and Huh7 HCC cell lines shows that HGF mediates the EMT in HCC. The knockdown of SNAI1 using siRNA canceled the HGF-mediated morphologic changes and cadherin switching, indicating that SNAI1 is required for the HGF-mediated EMT in HCC. Interestingly, sorafenib and the MEK inhibitor U0126 markedly inhibited the HGF-induced morphologic changes, SNAI1 upregulation, and cadherin switching, whereas the PI3 kinase inhibitor wortmannin did not. Collectively, these findings indicate that sorafenib downregulates SNAI1 expression by inhibiting mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling, thereby inhibiting the EMT in HCC cells. In fact, a wound healing and migration assay revealed that sorafenib completely canceled the HGF-mediated cellular migration in HCC cells. In conclusion, we found that sorafenib exerts a potent inhibitory activity against the EMT by inhibiting MAPK signaling and SNAI1 expression in HCC. Our findings may provide a novel insight into the anti-EMT effect of tyrosine kinase inhibitors in cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Benzenesulfonates / pharmacology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Down-Regulation
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / drug effects
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / genetics
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Niacinamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Pyridines / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sorafenib
  • Transfection


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzenesulfonates
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Pyridines
  • Niacinamide
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor
  • Sorafenib