• hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • cancer stem cell;
  • tumor-initiating cell;
  • EZH2;
  • DZNep


Recent advances in stem cell biology have identified tumor-initiating cells (TICs) in a variety of cancers including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Polycomb group gene products such as BMI1 and EZH2 have been characterized as general self-renewal regulators in a wide range of normal stem cells and TICs. We previously reported that Ezh2 tightly regulates the self-renewal and differentiation of murine hepatic stem/progenitor cells. However, the role of EZH2 in tumor-initiating HCC cells remains unclear. In this study, we conducted loss-of-function assay of EZH2 using short-hairpin RNA and pharmacological inhibition of EZH2 by an S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase inhibitor, 3-deazaneplanocin A (DZNep). Both EZH2-knockdown and DZNep treatment impaired cell growth and anchorage-independent sphere formation of HCC cells in culture. Flow cytometric analyses revealed that the two approaches decreased the number of epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM)+ tumor-initiating cells. Administration of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) or DZNep suppressed the tumors by implanted HCC cells in non-obese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficient mice. Of note, however, DZNep but not 5-FU predominantly reduced the number of EpCAM+ cells and diminished the self-renewal capability of these cells as judged by sphere formation assays. Our findings reveal that tumor-initiating HCC cells are highly dependent on EZH2 for their tumorigenic activity. Although further analyses of TICs from primary HCC would be necessary, pharmacological interference with EZH2 might be a promising therapeutic approach to targeting tumor-initiating HCC cells.