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Abstract

The overall survival of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains poor, and the molecular pathogenesis remains incompletely defined in HCC. Here we report that increased expression of αB-Crystallin in human HCC predicts poor survival and disease recurrence after surgery. Multivariate analysis identifies αB-Crystallin expression as an independent predictor for postoperative recurrence and overall survival. We show that elevated expression of αB-Crystallin promotes HCC progression in vivo and in vitro. We demonstrate that αB-Crystallin overexpression fosters HCC progression by inducing epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in HCC cells through activation of the extracellular-regulated protein kinase (ERK) cascade, which can counteract the effect of sorafenib. αB-Crystallin complexes with and elevates 14-3-3ζ protein, leading to up-regulation of ERK1/2 activity. Moreover, overexpression of αB-Crystallin in HCC cells induces EMT progression through an ERK1/2/Fra-1/slug signaling pathway. Clinically, our data reveal that overexpression of both αB-Crystallin and 14-3-3ζ correlates with the HCC poorest survival outcomes, and sorafenib response is impaired in patients with αB-Crystallin overexpression. Conclusion: These data suggest that the αB-Crystallin-14-3-3ζ complex acts synergistically to promote HCC progression by constitutively activating ERK signaling. This study reveals αB-Crystallin as a potential therapeutic target for HCC and a biomarker for predicting sorafenib treatment response. (HEPATOLOGY 2013)