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Koch, Dominik T.; Yu, Haochen; Beirith, Iris; Schirren, Malte; Drefs, Moritz; Liu, Yunfei; Knoblauch, Mathilda; Koliogiannis, Dionysios; Sheng, Weiwei; De Toni, Enrico N.; Bazhin, Alexandr V.; Renz, Bernhard W.; Guba, Markus O.; Werner, Jens; Ilmer, Matthias (2023): Tigecycline causes loss of cell viability mediated by mitochondrial OXPHOS and RAC1 in hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Journal of Translational Medicine, 21 (1). ISSN 1479-5876

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Despite recent advances in locoregional, systemic, and novel checkpoint inhibitor treatment, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is still associated with poor prognosis. The feasibility of potentially curative liver resection (LR) and transplantation (LT) is limited by the underlying liver disease and a shortage of organ donors. Especially after LR, high recurrence rates present a problem and circulating tumor cells are a major cause of extrahepatic recurrence. Tigecycline, a commonly used glycylcycline antibiotic, has been shown to have antitumorigenic effects and could be used as a perioperative and adjuvant therapeutic strategy to target circulating tumor cells. We aimed to investigate the effect of tigecycline on HCC cell lines and its mechanisms of action.

Huh7, HepG2, Hep3B, and immortalized hepatocytes underwent incubation with clinically relevant tigecycline concentrations, and the influence on proliferation, migration, and invasion was assessed in two- and three-dimensional in vitro assays, respectively. Bioinformatic analysis was used to identify specific targets of tigecycline. The expression of RAC1 was detected using western blot, RT-PCR and RNA sequencing. ELISA and flow cytometry were utilized to measure reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation upon tigecycline treatment and flow cytometry to detect alterations in cell cycle. Changes in mitochondrial function were detected via seahorse analysis. RNA sequencing was performed to examine involved pathways.

Tigecycline treatment resulted in a significant reduction of mitochondrial function with concomitantly preserved mitochondrial size, which preceded the observed decrease in HCC cell viability. The sensitivity of HCC cells to tigecycline treatment was higher than that of immortalized non-cancerous THLE-2 hepatocytes. Tigecycline inhibited both migratory and invasive properties. Tigecycline application led to an increase of detected ROS and an S-phase cell cycle arrest. Bioinformatic analysis identified RAC1 as a likely target for tigecycline and the expression of this molecule was increased in HCC cells as a result of tigecycline treatment.

Our study provides evidence for the antiproliferative effect of tigecycline in HCC. We show for the first time that this effect, likely to be mediated by reduced mitochondrial function, is associated with increased expression of RAC1. The reported effects of tigecycline with clinically relevant and achievable doses on HCC cells lay the groundwork for a conceivable use of this agent in cancer treatment.

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