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Role of bile salt in regulating Mcl-1 phosphorylation and chemoresistance in hepatocellular carcinoma cells

Mingmei Liao1, Jinfeng Zhao1*, Ton Wang2, Jinghua Duan1, Yangde Zhang1 and Xingming Deng2*

Author Affiliations

1 National Hepatobiliary & Enteric Surgery Research Center, Department of Surgery, Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, Changsha, Hunan 410008, P.R. China

2 Department of Radiation Oncology, Emory University School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

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Molecular Cancer 2011, 10:44  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-10-44

Published: 20 April 2011



Glycochenodeoxycholate (GCDA) is one of the major human bile salts. Bile salts stimulate cell survival and proliferation through the mitogen-activated protein kinase, but the downstream signaling mechanism(s) remains enigmatic. Mcl-1 is an antiapoptotic molecule of the Bcl2 family that is extensively overexpressed in tumor tissues of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).


Here we found that exposure of HepG2 cells to GCDA results in activation of ERK1 and ERK2 and phosphorylation of Mcl-1 in a PD98059 (MEK inhibitor)-sensitive manner. GCDA stimulates Mcl-1 phosphorylation in cells expressing WT but not T163A Mcl-1 mutant, indicating that GCDA-induced Mcl-1 phosphorylation occurs exclusively at the T163 site in its PEST region. GCDA-induced Mcl-1 phosphorylation at T163 enhances the half-life of Mcl-1. Treatment of HepG2 cells with GCDA facilitates Mcl-1 dissociation from Mule (a physiological Mcl-1 ubiquitin E3 ligase). Specific depletion of Mcl-1 from HepG2 cells by RNA interference increases sensitivity of HepG2 cells to chemotherapeutic drugs (i.e. cisplatin and irinotecan). In addition to activation of the ERK/Mcl-1 survival pathway, GCDA can also induce dose-dependent apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) sites of DNA lesions, which may partially neutralize its survival activity.


Our findings suggest that bile salt may function as a survival agonist and/or potential carcinogen in the development of HCC. Molecular approaches that inactivate Mcl-1 by blocking its T163 phosphorylation may represent new strategies for treatment of HCC.