Molecular medicine reports

c-Jun N-terminal kinase inhibitor favors transforming growth factor-β to antagonize hepatitis B virus X protein-induced cell growth promotion in hepatocellular carcinoma.

PMID 26648552


Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β induces cell growth arrest in well-differentiated hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) while hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) minimizes the tumor suppression of TGF-β signaling in early chronic hepatitis B. However, how to reverse the oncogenic effect of HBx and sustain the tumor-suppressive action of TGF-β has yet to be investigated. The present study examined the effect of TGF-β and a c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitor on cell growth in HCC cells with forced expression of HBx. It was found that HBx promoted cell growth via activation of the JNK/pSMAD3L pathway and inhibition of the transforming growth factor-beta type I receptor (TβRI)/pSMAD3C pathway. pSMAD3L/SMAD4 and pSMAD3C/SMAD4 complexes antagonized each other to regulate c-Myc expression. In the absence of HBx, TGF-β induced cell growth arrest through activation of the TβRI/pSMAD3C pathway in well-differentiated HCC cells. In the presence of HBx, TGF-β had no effect on cell growth. JNK inhibitor SP600125 significantly reversed the oncogenic action of HBx and favored TGF-β to regain the ability to inhibit the cell growth in HBx-expressing well-differentiated HCC cells. In conclusion, targeting JNK signaling favors TGF-β to block HBx-induced cell growth promotion in well-differentiated HCC cells. As an adjunct to anti-viral therapy, the combination of TGF-β and inhibition of JNK signaling is a potential therapy for HBV-infected HCC.