The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and the microtubules are prominent druggable targets for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). PI3K/Akt/mTOR activation is associated with resistance to microtubule inhibitors. Here, we hypothesized that co-targeting of mTOR (by mTOR inhibitor temsirolimus) and the microtubule (by microtubule-destabilizing agent vinblastine) would be more efficacious than single targeting in HCC models. In vitro studies showed that effective inhibition of mTOR signaling with temsirolimus alone was able to suppress HCC cell growth in a dose-dependent manner. Among five cell lines tested, Huh7 was the most temsirolimus-sensitive (IC 50 = 1.27 ± 0.06 μM), while Hep3B was the most temsirolimus-resistant (IC 50 = 52.95 ± 17.14 μM). We found that co-targeting of mTOR (by temsirolimus) and the microtubule (by vinblastine, at low nM) resulted in marked growth inhibition in Huh7 cells and synergistic growth inhibition in Hep3B cells (achieving maximal growth inhibition of 80-90%), demonstrating potent antitumor activity of this novel combination. In vivo studies showed that temsirolimus treatment alone for 1 week was able to inhibit the growth of Huh7 xenografts. Strikingly, the temsirolimus/vinblastine combination induced a significant and sustained antitumor activity (up to 27 days post-treatment), with effective reduction of tumor vessel density in both Huh7 and Hep3B xenograft models. Mechanistic investigation revealed that this marked antitumor effect was accompanied by specific and concerted down-regulation of several key anti-apoptotic/survival proteins (survivin, Bcl-2, and Mcl-1), which was not observed in single agent treatments. Our findings demonstrated that the potent anti-cancer activity of this co-targeting strategy was indeed mediated in parts by inhibition of these key survival/anti-apoptotic proteins.
- Anti-apoptotic/survival proteins
- Hepatocellular carcinoma
- Sustained antitumor activity
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