Metformin and AICAR regulate NANOG expression via the JNK pathway in HepG2 cells independently of AMPK
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NANOG, a marker of stemness, impacts tumor progression and therapeutic resistance in cancer cells. In human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), upregulation of NANOG is associated with metastasis and a low survival rate, while its downregulation results in a lower colony formation rate and enhanced chemosensitivity. Metformin, an agent widely used for diabetes treatment, and AICAR, another AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activator, have been reported to inhibit the growth of several types of cancer. Although inhibitory effects of metformin on NANOG in pancreatic cancer cells and of AICAR in mouse embryonic stem cells have been described, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain uncertain in HCC. In this study, we used the HepG2 cell line and found that metformin/AICAR downregulated NANOG expression with decreased cell viability and enhanced chemosensitivity to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Moreover, metformin/AICAR inhibited c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activity, and blockade of either the JNK MAPK pathway or knockdown of JNK1 gene expression reduced NANOG levels. The upregulation of NANOG and phospho-JNK by basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) was abrogated by metformin/AICAR. Additionally, although transient upregulation of NANOG within 2 h of treatment with metformin/AICAR was concordant with both JNK and AMPK activation, increased NANOG expression with activation of JNK was also observed following AMPK inhibition with compound C. Taken together, our data suggest that metformin/AICAR regulate NANOG expression via the JNK MAPK pathway in HepG2 cells independently of AMPK, and that this JNK/NANOG signaling pathway may offer new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of HCC.
KeywordsNANOG Metformin AICAR JNK
This work was supported by research funds from the Biomedical Research Institute of Chonbuk National University Hospital.
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Conflicts of interest
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