Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most lethal malignancies worldwide. A major cause for the failure of cancer therapy is the development of chemoresistance. Although progress has been made in the study of the mechanisms underlying cancer cells resistance, little is known about the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in cancer therapy resistance.
Methods and results: Fifteen miRNAs, including 6 up-regulated miRNAs (> 2.0-fold) and 9 down-regulated miRNAs (< 0.5-fold) were differentially expressed in 5-fluorouracil-resistant and their parental cell-lines (HepG2, HepG2/5-FU) by miRNA microarrays. Microarray results were confirmed by validating quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) analysis. Up-regulation of miR-141 expression resulted in a significant inhibition of 5-FU-mediated cytotoxicity and apoptosis in various hepatocellular carcinoma cells-lines. Mechanically, miR-141 promoted Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1) mRNA degradation by directly targeting the Keap1 3'untranslated region (3'UTR). Treatment with miR-141 mimics in parental HepG2 cells, restored miR-141 expression and reduced Keap1 levels, thereby resulting in erythroid transcription factor NFE2-L2 (Nrf2) nuclear translocation, activation of Nrf2-dependent HO-1 gene transcription, and subsequent enhancement in 5-FU resistance. Conversely, restoring the expression of Keap1 partly recovered 5-FU sensitivity by counteracting miR-141-mediated 5-FU resistance.
Conclusion: Our study showed that miR-141 plays a key role in 5-FU resistance by down-regulating Keap1 expression, thereby reactivating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant pathway, which may serve as a potential target for overcoming 5-FU resistance in hepatocellular carcinoma cells.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.