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Integrated analysis of multiple receptor tyrosine kinases identifies Axl as a therapeutic target and mediator of resistance to sorafenib in hepatocellular carcinoma

BACKGROUND:

Aberrant activation of Axl is implicated in the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We explored the biologic significance and preclinical efficacy of Axl inhibition as a therapeutic strategy in sorafenib-naive and resistant HCC.

METHODS:

We evaluated Axl expression in sorafenib-naive and resistant (SR) clones of epithelial (HuH7) and mesenchymal origin (SKHep-1) using antibody arrays and confirmed tissue expression. We tested the effect of Axl inhibition with RNA-interference and pharmacologically with R428 on a number of phenotypic assays.

RESULTS:

Axl mRNA overexpression in cell lines (n = 28) and RNA-seq tissue datasets (n = 373) correlated with epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Axl was overexpressed in HCC compared to cirrhosis and normal liver. We confirmed sorafenib resistance to be associated with EMT and enhanced motility in both HuH7-SR and SKHep-1-SR cells documenting a 4-fold increase in Axl phosphorylation as an adaptive feature of chronic sorafenib treatment in SKHep-1-SR cells. Axl inhibition reduced motility and enhanced sensitivity to sorafenib in SKHep-1SR cells. In patients treated with sorafenib (n = 40), circulating Axl levels correlated with shorter survival.

CONCLUSIONS:

Suppression of Axl-dependent signalling influences the transformed phenotype in HCC cells and contributes to adaptive resistance to sorafenib, providing a pre-clinical rationale for the development of Axl inhibitors as a measure to overcome sorafenib resistance.

Related Products

Cat.No. Product Name Information Publications Customer Product Validation
S2841 R428 (BGB324|Bemcentinib) R428 (BGB324) is an inhibitor of Axl with IC50 of 14 nM, >100-fold selective for Axl versus Abl. Selectivty for Axl is also greater than Mer and Tyro3 (50-to-100- fold more selective) and InsR, EGFR, HER2, and PDGFRβ (100- fold more selective). (32) (7)

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