c-Met, a high-affinity receptor for hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), plays a critical role in cancer growth, invasion, and metastasis. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients with an active HGF/c-Met signaling pathway have a significantly worse prognosis. Although targeting the HGF/c-Met pathway has been proposed for the treatment of multiple cancers, the effect of c-Met inhibition in HCC remains unclear. The human HCC cell lines Huh7, Hep3B, MHCC97-L, and MHCC97-H were used in this study to investigate the effect of c-Met inhibition using the small molecule selective c-Met tyrosine kinase inhibitor PHA665752. MHCC97-L and MHCC97-H cells demonstrate a mesenchymal phenotype with decreased expression of E-cadherin and increased expression of c-Met, fibronectin, and Zeb2 compared with Huh7 and Hep3B cells, which have an epithelial phenotype. PHA665752 treatment blocked phosphorylation of c-Met and downstream phosphoinositide 3-kinase/Akt and mitogen-activated protein kinase/Erk pathways, inhibited cell proliferation, and induced apoptosis in c-Met-positive MHCC97-L and MHCC97-H cells. In xenograft models, administration of PHA665752 significantly inhibited c-Met-positive MHCC97-L and MHCC97-H tumor growth, and PHA665752-treated tumors demonstrated marked reduction of both c-Met phosphorylation and cell proliferation. c-Met-negative Huh7 and Hep3B cells were not affected by c-Met inhibitor treatment in vitro or in vivo. In addition, c-Met-positive MHCC97-L and MHCC97-H cells demonstrated cancer stem cell-like characteristics, such as resistance to chemotherapy, tumor sphere formation, and increased expression of CD44 and ABCG2, and PHA665752 treatment suppressed tumor sphere formation and inhibited CD44 expression. Conclusion: c-Met represents a potential target of personalized treatment for HCC with an active HGF/c-Met pathway.
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