Sorafenib, a multi-kinase inhibitor, is the first-line treatment for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. However, this drug only provides a short improvement of patients’ overall survival, and drug resistance is commonly developed. Thus, the identification of resistant factor(s) or biomarker(s) is needed to develop more efficient therapeutic strategies. Long, non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) have recently been viewed as attractive cancer biomarkers and drive many important cancer phenotypes. A lncRNA, ZFAS1 (ZNFX1 antisense RNA 1) has been found to promote HCC metastasis. This study found that sorafenib induced ZFAS1 expression specifically in sorafenib-resistant HCC cells. Although ZFAS1 knockdown did not restore the sensitivity of HCC cells to sorafenib, its expression may act as a resistant biomarker for sorafenib therapy. Bioinformatics analysis predicted that sorafenib tended to induce pathways related to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and the unfolded protein response (UPR) in sorafenib-resistant HCC cells. In vitro experimental evidence suggested that sorafenib induced protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase (PERK)/activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4)-dependent ZFAS1 expression, and sorafenib resistance could be over-come by PERK/ATF inhibitors. Therefore, PERK/ATF4/ZFAS1 signaling axis might be an attractive therapeutic and prognostic biomarker for sorafenib therapy in HCC.
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