Scientific Reports: STEAP2 promotes hepatocellular carcinoma progression via increased copper levels and stress-activated MAP kinase activity (Chen)

  • Carla Zeballos Torrez,
  • Acarizia Easley,
  • Hakim Bouamar,
  • Guixi Zheng,
  • Xiang Gu,
  • Junhua Yang,
  • Yu-Chiao Chiu,
  • Yidong Chen,
  • Glenn A. Halff,
  • Francisco G. Cigarroa
  • Lu-Zhe Sun


Six Transmembrane Epithelial Antigen of Prostate 2 (STEAP2) belong to a family of metalloreductases, which indirectly aid in the uptake of iron and copper ions. Its role in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains to be characterized. Here, we report that STEAP2 expression was upregulated in HCC tumors compared with paired adjacent non-tumor tissues by RNA sequencing, RT-qPCR, Western blotting, and immunostaining. Public HCC datasets demonstrated upregulated STEAP2 expression in HCC and a positive association with tumor grade. Transient and stable knockdown (KD) of STEAP2 in HCC cell lines abrogated their malignant phenotypes in vitro and in vivo, while STEAP2 overexpression showed opposite effects. STEAP2 KD in HCC cells led to significant alteration of genes associated with extracellular matrix organization, cell adhesion/chemotaxis, negative enrichment of an invasiveness signature gene set, and cell migration/invasion inhibition. STEAP2 KD reduced intracellular copper levels and activation of stress-activated MAP kinases, including p38 and JNK. Treatment with copper rescued the reduced HCC cell migration due to STEAP2 KD and activated p38 and JNK. Furthermore, treatment with p38 or JNK inhibitors significantly inhibited copper-mediated cell migration. Thus, STEAP2 plays a malignant-promoting role in HCC cells by driving migration/invasion via increased copper levels and MAP kinase activities. Our study uncovered a novel molecular mechanism contributing to HCC malignancy and a potential therapeutic target for HCC treatment.

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Article Categories: Research Paper

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