Peritumoral monocytes induce cancer cell autophagy to facilitate the progression of human hepatocellular carcinoma.

PMID 29940792


Macroautophagy/autophagy is an important catabolic process mediating cellular homeostasis and plays critical roles in cancer development. Whereas autophagy has been widely studied in various pathological models, little is known about the distribution, clinical significance and regulatory mechanism of this process in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In the present study, we found that tumor tissues exhibited significantly increased levels of autophagy compared with non-tumor tissues, and cancer cells with higher levels of autophagy were predominantly enriched in the invading edge regions of human HCC. Increased MAP1LC3B/LC3B expression in the invading edge regions was significantly correlated with a higher density of closely located monocytes, and TNF and IL1B derived from tumor-activated monocytes synergistically induced cancer cell autophagy in the invading edge regions of HCC. Monocyte-elicited autophagy induced the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of cancer cells and promoted tumor metastasis by activating the NFKB-SNAI1 signaling pathway. Moreover, the increase of LC3B+ cancer cells in the invading edge areas was associated with high mortality and reduced survival of patients with HCC. These findings indicated that cancer cell autophagy is regulated by a collaborative interaction between tumor and immune cell components in distinct HCC microenvironments, thus allowing the inflammatory monocytes to be rerouted in a tumor-promoting direction.