Radiotherapy (RT) is applied to eradicate tumors in the clinic. However, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) exhibits resistance against RT. It is demonstrated that RT directly inhibits tumor growth but which induces type I interferons (IFNs) expression to phosphorylate STATs and increase STATs-downstream PD-L1 levels in the survival tumor cells. Since sorafenib is capable of suppressing STATs, we, therefore, hypothesize that sorafenib suppresses IFNs-mediated radioresistance and PD-L1 in the residual tumor cells and may synergistically enhance RT-mediated reactivation of CD8+ T immunological activity to eradicate HCC cells. We found that combined RT, sorafenib, and PBMCs significantly suppress the colony formation in the HCC cells, whereas CD8+ T cells expressed high granzyme B (GZMB) and perforin (PRF1) in co-cultured with RT-treated HCC cells. We demonstrated RT significantly inhibited HCC cell viability but induced IFNα and IL-6 expression in the RT-treated HCC cells, resulting in immune checkpoint PD-L1 and anti-apoptosis MCL1 and BCL2 overexpression in the non-RT HCC cells. We found that sorafenib decreased RT-PLC5 medium (RT-PLC5-m)-mediated cell growth by suppressing IFNα- and IL-6-mediated STAT1 and STAT3 phosphorylation. Sorafenib also reduced IFNα-mediated PD-L1 levels in HCC cells. Meanwhile, RT-PLC5-m reactivated CD8+ T cells and non-CD8+ PBMCs, resulting in high IFNγ and IL-2 levels in CD8+ T cells, and cytokines IFNα, IFNγ, IL-2, and IL-6 in non-CD8+ PBMCs. Particularly, CD8+ T cells expressed higher GZMB and PRF1 and non-CD8+ PBMCs expressed higher IFNα, IFNγ, IL-2, IL-6, CXCL9, and CXCL10 in co-cultured with RT-treated HCC cells compared to parental cells. Although we demonstrated that sorafenib slightly inhibited RT-mediated GZMB and PRF1 expression in CD8+ T cells, and cytokines levels in non-CD8+ PBMCs. Based on sorafenib significantly suppressed IFNα- and IL-6-mediated radioresistance and PD-L1 expression, we demonstrated that sorafenib synergized RT and immune surveillance for suppressing PLC5 cell viability in vitro. In conclusion, this study revealed that RT induced IFNα and IL-6 expression to phosphorylate STAT1 and STAT3 by autocrine and paracrine effect, leading to radioresistance and PD-L1 overexpression in HCC cells. Sorafenib not only suppressed IFNα- and IL-6-mediated PLC5 cell growth but also inhibited IFNα-mediated PD-L1 expression, synergistically enhancing RT-mediated CD8+ T cell reactivation against HCC cells.
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