Inhibition of STAT3 Signaling Blocks the Anti-apoptotic Activity of IL-6 in Human Liver Cancer Cells
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional cytokine, which may block apoptosis during inflammation to protect cells under very toxic conditions. However, IL-6 also activates STAT3 in many types of human cancer. Recent studies demonstrate that high levels of IL-6 are associated with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer. Here we reported that IL-6 promoted survival of human liver cancer cells through activating STAT3 in response to doxorubicin treatment. Endogenous IL-6 levels in SNU-449 cells were higher than in Hep3B cells. Meanwhile, SNU-449 cells were more resistant to doxorubicin than Hep3B cells. Addition of IL-6 induced STAT3 activation in Hep3B cells and led to protection against doxorubicin. In contrast, neutralizing IL-6 with anti-IL-6 antibody decreased survival of SNU-449 cells in response to doxorubicin. To elucidate the mechanism of the anti-apoptotic function of IL-6, we investigated if STAT3 mediated this drug resistance. Targeting STAT3 with STAT3 siRNA reduced the protection of IL-6 against doxorubicin-induced apoptosis, indicating that STAT3 signaling contributed to the anti-apoptotic effect of IL-6. Moreover, we further explored if a STAT3 small molecule inhibitor could abolish this anti-apoptotic effect. LLL12, a STAT3 small molecule inhibitor, blocked IL-6-induced STAT3 phosphorylation, resulting in attenuation of the anti-apoptotic activity of IL-6. Finally, neutralization of endogenous IL-6 with anti-IL-6 antibody or blockade of STAT3 with LLL12 lowered the recovery in SNU-449 cells after doxorubicin treatment. Therefore, our results demonstrated that targeting STAT3 signaling could interrupt the anti-apoptotic function of IL-6 in human liver cancer cells.