1. Department of Infectious Disease, Shengjing Hospital of China Medical University, Shenyang 110004, China
2. Laboratory of Biomaterials and Translational Medicine, The Third Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510630, China
Sorafenib is the standard systemic treatment for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and improving its therapeutic effects is crucial for addressing cancer aggression. We previously reported that epalrestat, an aldo-keto reductase 1B10 inhibitor, enhanced sorafenib's inhibitory effects on HCC xenograft in nude mice. This study aimed to elucidate the mechanism of epalrestat's anti-tumour enhancing effects on sorafenib. HepG2 cells were treated with sorafenib, epalrestat, and their combination. Cell proliferation was assessed with Cell Counting Kit-8 and colony formation assays. AKR1B10 supernate concentration and enzyme activity were detected by ELISA assay and the decrease of optical density of NADPH at 340 nm. Cell cycle and apoptosis analyses were performed with flow cytometry. Western blots clarified the molecular mechanism underlying effects on cell cycle, apoptosis, and autophagy. The anti-tumour mechanism was then validated in vivo through TUNEL and immunohistochemistry staining of HCC xenograft sections. Epalrestat combined with sorafenib inhibited HepG2 cellular proliferation in vitro, arrested the cell cycle at G0/G1, and promoted apoptosis and autophagy. Treatment with a specific mTOR activator MHY-1485 increased mTOR phosphorylation, while suppressing apoptosis and autophagy. Consistent with in vitro results, data from the HCC-xenograft nude mouse model also indicated that combined treatment inhibited the mTOR pathway and promoted apoptosis and autophagy. In conclusion, epalrestat heightens sorafenib's anti-cancer effects via blocking the mTOR pathway, thus inducing cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, and autophagy.
Keywords: hepatocellular carcinoma, AKR1B10, sorafenib, apoptosis, autophagy, mTOR signalling pathway