Purpose: The aberrant expression of miR-221 is a hallmark of human cancers, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and its involvement in drug resistance, together with a proved in vivo efficacy of anti-miR-221 molecules, strengthen its role as an attractive target candidate in the oncologic field. The discovery of biomarkers predicting the response to treatments represents a clinical challenge in the personalized treatment era. This study aimed to investigate the possible role of miR-221 as a circulating biomarker in HCC patients undergoing sorafenib treatment as well as to evaluate its contribution to sorafenib resistance in advanced HCC.Experimental Design: A chemically induced HCC rat model and a xenograft mouse model, together with HCC-derived cell lines were employed to analyze miR-221 modulation by Sorafenib treatment. Data from the functional analysis were validated in tissue samples from surgically resected HCCs. The variation of circulating miR-221 levels in relation to Sorafenib treatment were assayed in the animal models and in two independent cohorts of patients with advanced HCC.Results: MiR-221 over-expression was associated with Sorafenib resistance in two HCC animal models and caspase-3 was identified as its target gene, driving miR-221 anti-apoptotic activity following Sorafenib administration. Lower pre-treatment miR-221 serum levels were found in patients subsequently experiencing response to Sorafenib and an increase of circulating miR-221 at the two months assessment was observed in responder patients.Conclusions: MiR-221 might represent a candidate biomarker of likelihood of response to Sorafenib in HCC patients to be tested in future studies. Caspase-3 modulation by miR-221 participates to Sorafenib resistance. Clin Cancer Res; 23(14); 3953-65. ©2017 AACR.
©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.