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Open AccessArticle

Inhibition of MELK Protooncogene as an Innovative Treatment for Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma

1
Institut für Pathologie, Universitätsklinikum Regensburg, 93053 Regensburg, Germany
2
Institut für Pathologie, Universitätsmedizin Greifswald, 17475 Greifswald, Germany
3
Department of Clinical, Surgical, Experimental Sciences, University of Sassari, 07100 Sassari, Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Medicina 2020, 56(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina56010001
Received: 22 November 2019 / Revised: 10 December 2019 / Accepted: 16 December 2019 / Published: 18 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Liver Cancer: Molecular Mechanisms and Targeted Therapies)
Background and Objectives: Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (iCCA) is a pernicious tumor characterized by a dismal outcome and scarce therapeutic options. To substantially improve the prognosis of iCCA patients, a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for development and progression of this disease is imperative. In the present study, we aimed at elucidating the role of the maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) protooncogene in iCCA. Materials and Methods: We analyzed the expression of MELK and two putative targets, Forkhead Box M1 (FOXM1) and Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 (EZH2), in a collection of human iCCA by real-time RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry (IHC). The effects on iCCA growth of both the multi-kinase inhibitor OTSSP167 and specific small-interfering RNA (siRNA) against MELK were investigated in iCCA cell lines. Results: Expression of MELK was significantly higher in tumors than in corresponding non-neoplastic liver counterparts, with highest levels of MELK being associated with patients’ shorter survival length. In vitro, OTSSP167 suppressed the growth of iCCA cell lines in a dose-dependent manner by reducing proliferation and inducing apoptosis. These effects were amplified when OTSSP167 administration was coupled to the DNA-damaging agent doxorubicin. Similar results, but less remarkable, were obtained when MELK was silenced by specific siRNA in the same cells. At the molecular level, siRNA against MELK triggered downregulation of MELK and its targets. Finally, we found that MELK is a downstream target of the E2F1 transcription factor. Conclusion: Our results indicate that MELK is ubiquitously overexpressed in iCCA, where it may represent a prognostic indicator and a therapeutic target. In particular, the combination of OTSSP167 (or other, more specific MELK inhibitors) with DNA-damaging agents might be a potentially effective therapy for human iCCA. View Full-Text
Keywords: intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma; MELK; FOXM1; EZH2; targeted therapies intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma; MELK; FOXM1; EZH2; targeted therapies
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Cigliano, A.; Pilo, M.G.; Mela, M.; Ribback, S.; Dombrowski, F.; Pes, G.M.; Cossu, A.; Evert, M.; Calvisi, D.F.; Utpatel, K. Inhibition of MELK Protooncogene as an Innovative Treatment for Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma. Medicina 2020, 56, 1.

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