Contradictory roles of the androgen receptor (AR) in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) metastasis have been reported. We have shown that VETC (vessels encapsulating tumor clusters) mediates invasion-independent metastasis, whereas VETC- HCCs metastasize in an invasion-dependent manner. Here we aimed to reveal the roles of AR in HCC metastasis.Mouse xenograft models, clinical samples, and cell models were used.AR expression was significantly lower in HCCs with VETC pattern, portal vein tumor thrombus, endothelium-coated microemboli or high recurrence rates. Overexpressing AR in VETC+ hepatoma cells suppressed VETC formation and intrahepatic metastasis but promoted pulmonary metastasis of mouse xenografts. AR decreased the transcription of Angiopoietin-2 (Angpt2), a factor essential for VETC formation, by binding to the Angpt2 promoter. The roles of AR in inhibiting VETC formation and intrahepatic metastasis were attenuated by restoring Angpt2 expression, suggesting that AR may repress VETC-dependent intrahepatic metastasis by inhibiting Angpt2 expression and VETC formation. On the other hand, AR upregulated Rac1 expression, promoted lamellipodia formation and increased cell migration/invasion. A Rac1 inhibitor abrogated the AR-mediated promotion of migration/invasion and pulmonary metastasis of VETC+ hepatoma cells, but did not affect the AR-mediated inhibition of intrahepatic metastasis. Furthermore, an AR inhibitor decreased Rac1 expression and attenuated both intrahepatic and pulmonary metastasis of VETC- xenografts, and this effect was abrogated by restoring Rac1 expression. These data indicate that AR may facilitate the lung metastasis of VETC+ HCCs and both the liver/lung metastases of VETC- HCCs by upregulating Rac1 expression and then promoting migration/invasion.AR plays dual and opposing roles in VETC-dependent and invasion-dependent metastasis, which highlights the complex functions of AR and the importance of individualized cancer therapy.This study revealed the dual and opposing roles of AR in VETC-dependent and invasion-dependent metastasis and elucidated the underlying mechanisms, which provided novel insights into the complex regulatory network of AR in HCC metastasis and may have important implications for precision medicine.
Hui-Chao Zhou, Chu-Xing Liu, Wei-Dong Pan, Li-Ru Shang, Jia-Lin Zheng, Bi-Yu Huang, Jie-Ying Chen, Limin Zheng, Jian-Hong Fang, Shi-Mei Zhuang