Objectives Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) circulate with increased numbers in the peripheral blood of patients with highly-vascularised hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and contribute to angiogenesis and neovascularisation. We hypothesised that angiogenic EPCs, that is, colony forming unit-endothelial cells (CFU-ECs), and outgrowth EPCs, that is, endothelial colony-forming cells, may exert paracrine effects on the behaviours and metastatic capacities of human hepatoma cells. Design Various molecular and functional approaches ranging from in vitro cell culture studies on molecular signalling to in vivo investigations on cell invasion and orthotropic transplantation models in mice and clinical specimens from patients with HCC were used. Results Monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) was identified as a critical mediator released from CFU-ECs to contribute to the chemotaxis of Huh7 and Hep3B cells by inducing their microRNA-21 (miR-21) biogenesis through the C-C chemokine receptor-2/c-Jun N-terminal kinase/activator protein-1 signalling cascade. CFU-EC-induction of miR-21 in these cells activated their Rac1 and matrix metallopeptidase-9 by silencing Rho GTPase-activating protein-24 and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-3, respectively, leading to increased cell mobility. MCP-1-induction of miR-21 induced epithelial-mesenchymal transformation of Huh7 cells in vitro and their intrahepatic metastatic capability in vivo. Moreover, increased numbers of MCP-1+ EPCs and their positive correlations with miR-21 induction and metastatic stages in human HCC were found. Conclusions Our results provide new insights into the complexity of EPC-HCC interactions and indicate that anticancer therapies targeting either the MCP-1 released from angiogenic EPCs or the miR-21 biogenesis in HCC cells may prevent the malignant progression of primary tumours.
ASJC Scopus subject areas