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Open Access Research article

Sorafenib modulates the radio sensitivity of hepatocellular carcinoma cells in vitro in a schedule-dependent manner

Qiaoqiao Li12, Yonghong Hu12, Mian Xi12, Liru He12, Lei Zhao12 and Mengzhong Liu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiation Oncology, SunYat-sen University Cancer Center Guangzhou, 651 Dongfeng Road East, Guangzhou, 510060, China

2 State Key Laboratory of Oncology in South China, Guangzhou, China

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:485  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-485

Published: 22 October 2012

Abstract

Background

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has a high incidence and mortality. Radiotherapy and sorafenib have proven effective for HCC. Here, we investigated whether sorafenib modulated the response of HCC cells to irradiation in vitro, effect of timing of sorafenib, and the underlying mechanisms.

Methods

Cell viability of the HCC cell lines, SMMC-7721 and Bel-7402, was examined by the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-5(3-carboxymethoxyphenyl)-2(4-sulfophenyl)-2 H-terazolium (MTT) assays. Clonogenic growth assays of SMMC-7721 and Bel-7402 were determined by colony formation assays. DNA damage was assessed by monitoring γ-HAX foci in irradiated cells with immunofluorescence microscopy, and cell cycle distribution changes were examined by flow cytometry. Effects of sorafenib (15 μM) added 30 min prior to radiation (pre-irradiation sorafenib) of SMMC-7721 and BEL-7402 or 24 h post-irradiation (post-irradiation sorafenib) on irradiated SMMC-7721 and BEL-7402 cells were compared to those of radiation alone or no treatment.

Results

The effect of sorafenib was dependent on its time of addition in relationship to irradiation of cells. Pre-irradiation sorafenib did not significantly affect the viability of SMMC-7221 and BEL-7402 cells compared with irradiation treatment alone. In contrast, post-irradiation sorafenib increased the sensitivity of irradiated SMMC-7221 and BEL-7402 cells significantly in a time-dependent manner. Pre-irradiation sorafenib significantly increased the surviving fraction of SMMC-7221 and BEL-7402 cells in clonogenic assays whereas post-irradiation sorafenib significantly reduced the surviving fractions of SMMC-7221 and BEL-7402 cells. SMMC-7721 cells treated with sorafenib 30 min before irradiation had significantly fewer cells with γ-H2AX foci (23.8 ± 2.9%) than SMMC-7721 cells receiving radiation alone (59.9 ± 2.4; P < 0.001). Similarly, BEL-7402 cells receiving sorafenib prior to irradiation had significantly fewer cells with γ-H2AX foci (46.4 ± 3.8%) than those receiving radiation alone (25.0 ± 3.0%; P < 0.001). In addition, irradiation (6 Gy) caused a significant increase in the percentage of both SMMC-7721 and BEL-7402 cells in G2/M at 12 to 16 h post irradiation, which was markedly delayed by pre-irradiation sorafenib.

Conclusions

Sorafenib combined with irradiation exerted a schedule-dependent effect in HCC cells in vitro, which has significant implications for the combined use of sorafenib and radiotherapy for HCC patients.

Keywords:
Hepatocellular carcinoma; Radiation; Sorafenib; Apoptosis; DNA damage repair