Slug promoted vasculogenic mimicry in hepatocellular carcinoma


Correspondence to: Prof. Baocun SUN, Department of Pathology and Cancer Hospital and General Hospital of Tianjin Medical University, Tianjin 300070, China.

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Vasculogenic mimicry (VM) refers to the unique capability of aggressive tumour cells to mimic the pattern of embryonic vasculogenic networks. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) regulator slug have been implicated in the tumour invasion and metastasis of human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the relationship between slug and VM formation is not clear. In the study, we demonstrated that slug expression was associated with EMT and cancer stem cell (CSCs) phenotype in HCC patients. Importantly, slug showed statistically correlation with VM formation. We consistently demonstrated that an overexpression of slug in HCC cells significantly increased CSCs subpopulation that was obvious by the increased clone forming efficiency in soft agar and by flowcytometry analysis. Meantime, the VM formation and VM mediator overexpression were also induced by slug induction. Finally, slug overexpression lead to the maintenance of CSCs phenotype and VM formation was demonstrated in vivo. Therefore, the results of this study indicate that slug induced the increase and maintenance of CSCs subpopulation and contributed to VM formation eventually. The related molecular pathways may be used as novel therapeutic targets for the inhibition of HCC angiogenesis and metastasis.