The mTOR inhibitor Rapamycin has tumor inhibitory properties; and it is also used as an immunosuppressive agent after organ transplantation. However, prolonged Rapamycin treatment re-activates Akt and can promote cancer growth. Honokiol is a natural compound with both anti-tumorigenic and anti-inflammatory properties. Here, we assessed the anti-tumor effects of Rapamycin and Honokiol combination in renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Receptor tyrosine kinase c-Met-mediated signaling plays a major role in RCC growth. We observed that compared with Rapamycin alone, Rapamycin + Honokiol combination can effectively down-regulate c-Met-induced Akt phosphorylation in renal cancer cells; and it markedly inhibited Ras activation and cell proliferation and promoted G1 phase cell cycle arrest. The combination treatment significantly induced ROS generation and cancer cell apoptosis even when c-Met is activated. Importantly, Honokiol, but not Rapamycin, decreased c-Met-induced expression of the co-inhibitory molecule PD-L1, implied in the immune escape of renal cancer cells. In mouse renal cancer cells and Balb/c splenocytes co-culture assay, Rapamycin + Honokiol markedly potentiated immune-cell-mediated killing of cancer cells, possibly through the down-regulation of PD-L1. Together, Honokiol can effectively overcome the limitation of Rapamycin treatment alone; and the combination treatment can markedly restrict the growth of RCC, with particular importance to post-transplantation renal cancer.
Keywords: Honokiol; PD-L1; c-Met; mTOR inhibitor; receptor tyrosine kinase; renal cell carcinoma.