Novel Combination of Cyclooxygenase-2 and MEK Inhibitors in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma Provides a Synergistic Increase in Apoptosis

C. Max Schmidt, Yufang Wang, Chad Wiesenauer

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29 Scopus citations


Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and ERK-MAPK mitogenic signaling pathways are important in human hepatocellular carcinoma. We investigated the effect of COX-2 inhibition on ERK-MAPK signaling and the effect of combining MEK (MAPK kinase) and COX-2 inhibitors in human hepatocellular carcinoma in vitro. COX and ERK expression were determined by immunoblot in HepG2 and Hep3B cells. COX-2 and MEK activity were determined by prostaglandin E2 assay and phosphospecific immunoblot, respectively. Cell growth was determined by cell proliferation and cell counts. Apoptosis was determined by DNA fragmentation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and flow cytometry. Cell cycle was determined by flow cytometry. HepG2 and Hep3B cells do not express COX-1 or COX-2. Correspondingly, basal and agonist (arachidonic acid, lipopolysaccharide)- stimulated COX-2 activity is undetectable. Treatment of HepG2 and Hep3B cells with NS398 resulted in an increase in ERK1/2 phosphorylation (MEK activity) in a concentration-dependent fashion (NS398, 1 to 100 μmol/L). Treatment with the COX-2 inhibitor NS398 in the presence of U0126 (MEK inhibitor) effectively suppressed ERK1/2 phosphorylation as determined by phosphospecific ERK1/2 immunoblot. Total ERK1/2 and COX-2 were unchanged with NS398 and U0126 treatments. In HepG2 cells, NS398 (1 to 100 μmol/L) decreased apoptosis as determined by DNA fragmentation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Relative apoptosis was increased with U0126 alone or in combination with NS398 (9 to 10 times the control value), eliminating the anti-apoptotic effect of NS398. In Hep3B cells, apoptosis was unchanged with NS398 (1 to 50 μmol/L) or U0126 (1 to 10 μmol/L) alone. The combination of NS398 and U0126 in Hep3B cells resulted in a synergistic increase in apoptosis (10 times the control value). Relative apoptosis in both cell lines strongly correlated with changes in the expression of the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-xL. Cellular growth was assessed by colorimetric proliferation assay and cell counts. HepG2 and Hep3B cells had concentration-dependent inhibition of cell growth with NS398 or U0126 treatment alone. The combination of NS398 and U0126 resulted in complementary inhibitory effects on growth. Growth inhibitory effects in HepG2 and Hep3B cells with combination treatment appear to be, in part, secondary to the induction of G0/G1 and G2/M cell cycle arrest, respectively, as determined by flow cytometry. Despite differential signaling in HepG2 and Hep3B cells, the sum effect of combining the COX-2 inhibitor NS398 and the MEK inhibitor U0126 results in enhanced antitumor actions. This novel combination may be useful for in vivo studies of hepatocellular carcinoma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1024-1033
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Gastrointestinal Surgery
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003


  • Bcl-xL
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • MAPK
  • NS398
  • U0126

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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