ECT2 regulates the Rho/ERK signalling axis to promote early recurrence in human hepatocellular carcinoma

J Hepatol. 2015 Jun;62(6):1287-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2015.01.014. Epub 2015 Jan 21.


Background & aims: Early recurrence is the major obstacle for improving the outcome of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Therefore, identifying key molecules contributing to early HCC recurrence can enable the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the clinical management of HCC. Epithelial cell transforming sequence 2 (ECT2) has been implicated in human cancers, but its function in HCC is largely unknown.

Methods: ECT2 expression was studied by microarrays, immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry in human HCC samples. siRNA- and lentiviral vector-mediated knockdown were employed to decipher the molecular functions of ECT2.

Results: The upregulation of ECT2 is significantly associated with early recurrent HCC disease and poor survival. Knockdown of ECT2 markedly suppressed Rho GTPases activities, enhanced apoptosis, attenuated oncogenicity and reduced the metastatic ability of HCC cells. Moreover, knockdown of ECT2 or Rho also suppressed ERK activation, while the silencing of Rho or ERK led to a marked reduction in cell migration. Stable knockdown of ECT2 in vivo resulted in significant retardation of tumour growth and the suppression of ERK activation. High expression of ECT2 correlates with high ERK phosphorylation and poor survival of HCC patients. Furthermore, ECT2 enhances the expression and stability of RACGAP1, accelerating ECT2-mediated Rho activation to promote metastasis.

Conclusions: ECT2 is closely associated with the activation of the Rho/ERK signalling axis to promote early HCC recurrence. In addition, ECT2 can crosstalk with RACGAP1 to catalyse the GTP exchange involved in Rho signalling to further regulate tumour initiation and metastasis.

Keywords: ERK activation; Early recurrence; GTP exchange; Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); RACGAP1; Rho GTPases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / secondary
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Female
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Heterografts
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / etiology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Time Factors
  • Up-Regulation
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • ECT2 protein, human
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • mgcRacGAP
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins