The function of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) during hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) progression is well established. However, the regulatory mechanisms modulating this phenomenon remain unclear. Homeobox B9 (HOXB9) has been proposed as an oncogene in many cancer developments, but its function and underlying mechanisms in HCC metastasis remain unknown. HOXB9 modulates EMT through the transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) pathway, which is a recognized regulator of EMT in HCC cells. The knockdown of HOXB9 decreased the migration and invasion of HCC cells. Conversely, the HOXB9 overexpression led to an increase in the above-mentioned phenotypes in HCC cells. Further analysis of HOXB9-regulated cellular functions showed the ability of this transcription factor to induce EMT. Moreover, we demonstrated that the TGF-β1 pathway is important in HOXB9-induced EMT in HCC cells. These findings define a novel cellular mechanism regulated by HOXB9, which controls EMT phenotype in HCC. This study is the first to illustrate the pivotal function of HOXB9 in regulating the metastatic behavior of HCC cells.
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