Des-γ-carboxy prothrombin (DCP), an aberrant prothrombin produced by hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells, has been shown to be associated with the biological malignant potential of HCC. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of DCP on HCC cell growth and metastasis, and to explore the underlying molecular mechanisms. DCP significantly stimulated HCC cell growth, as measured by cell counting kit-8 assay. Transwell chamber assay showed that DCP increased HCC cell migration through reconstituted extracellular matrix (Matrigel). Gelatin zymography assay and Western blot analysis demonstrated that DCP increased the secretion and expression of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and MMP-9 in the supernatant of cultured HCC cells and on tumour cell membranes. DCP was found to bind to the cell surface receptor Met, resulting in Met phosphorylation and subsequent activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Western blot analysis demonstrated that DCP stimulated a sequential kinase phosphorylation cascade including ERK1/2, MEK1/2 and c-Raf, indicating activation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase/mitogen activated protein kinase (ERK1/2 MAPK) signalling pathway. Furthermore, blocking ERK1/2 MAPK activation with ERK1/2 inhibitor PD98059 essentially abolished the DCP-induced MMP-2 and MMP-9 activity, confirming the signalling pathway of DCP stimulation. Taken together, these results suggested that DCP stimulates HCC growth and promotes HCC metastasis by increasing the activity of MMP-2 and MMP-9 through activation of the ERK1/2 MAPK signalling pathway.
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