LDLR inhibition promotes hepatocellular carcinoma proliferation and metastasis by elevating intracellular cholesterol synthesis through the MEK/ERK signaling pathway

Ziye Chen, Lu Chen, Bo Sun, Dongming Liu, ... Hua Guo


Adaptive rewiring of cancer energy metabolism has received increasing attention. By binding with LDLs, LDLRs make most of the circulating cholesterol available for cells to utilize. However, it remains unclear how LDLR works in HCC development by affecting cholesterol metabolism.


Database analyses and immunohistochemical staining were used to identify the clinical significance of LDLR in HCC. A transcriptome analysis was used to reveal the mechanism of LDLR aberration in HCC progression. A liver orthotopic transplantation model was used to evaluate the role of LDLR in HCC progression in vivo.


Downregulation of LDLR was identified as a negative prognostic factor in human HCC. Reduced expression of LDLR in HCC cell lines impaired LDL uptake but promoted proliferation and metastasis in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, increasing intracellular de novo cholesterol biosynthesis was the chief contributor to malignant behaviors caused by LDLR inhibition, which could be rescued by simvastatin. Activation of the MEK/ERK pathway by LDLR downregulation partially contributed to intracellular cholesterol synthesis in HCC.


Downregulation of LDLR may elevate intracellular cholesterol synthesis to accelerate proliferation and motility through a mechanism partially attributed to stimulation of the MEK/ERK signaling pathway. Repression of intracellular cholesterol synthesis with statins may constitute a targetable liability in the context of lower LDLR expression in HCC.