Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the second leading cause of cancer-related death and its prognosis remains poor due to the high risk of tumor recurrence and metastasis. Berberine (BBR) is a natural compound derived from some medicinal plants, and accumulating evidence has shown its potent anti-tumor activity with diverse action on tumor cells, including inducing cancer cell death and blocking cell cycle and migration. Molecular targets of berberine involved in its inhibitory effect on the invasiveness remains not yet clear. In this study, we identified that berberine exhibits a potent inhibition on the invasion and migration of HCC cells. This was accompanied by a dose-dependent down-regulation of expression of Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 in berberine-treated HCC cells. Furthermore, berberine inactivated p38 and Erk1/2 signaling pathway in HCC cells. Primarily, this may be attributed to the up-regulation of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), a tumor suppressor that can antagonize uPA receptor and down-regulation of uPA. Blockade of uPA receptor-associated pathways leads to reduced invasiveness and motility of berberine-treated HCC cells. In conclusion, our findings identified for the first time that inactivation of uPA receptor by up-regulation of PAI-1 and down-regulation of uPA is involved in the inhibitory effect of berberine on HCC cell invasion and migration.
Keywords: PAI-1; berberine; hepatocellular carcinoma; invasion; migration; uPA.