Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common primary malignant tumor. Although sorafenib and regorafenib have been approved for first-line and second-line treatment, respectively, of patients with advanced HCC, long-term treatment often results in acquired resistance. Given that glycolysis-mediated lactate production can contribute to drug resistance and impair HCC treatment efficacy, we investigated the effects of ketone body treatment on the metabolic shift in sorafenib-resistant HCC cells. We discovered differential expression of 3-hydroxymethyl glutaryl-CoA synthase 2 (HMGCS2) and the ketone body D-β-hydroxybutyrate (β-HB) in four sorafenib-resistant HCC cell lines. In sorafenib-resistant HCC cells, lower HMGCS2 and β-HB levels were correlated with more glycolytic alterations and higher lactate production. β-HB treatment enhanced pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) expression and decreased lactate dehydrogenase (LDHA) expression and lactate production in sorafenib-resistant HCC cells. Additionally, β-HB combined with sorafenib or regorafenib promoted the antiproliferative and antimigratory abilities of sorafenib-resistant HCC cells by inhibiting the B-raf/mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway and mesenchymal N-cadherin-vimentin axis. Although the in vivo β-HB administration did not affect tumor growth, the expression of proliferative and glycolytic proteins was inhibited in subcutaneous sorafenib-resistant tumors. In conclusion, exogenous β-HB treatment can reduce lactate production and reverse sorafenib resistance by inducing a glycolytic shift; it can also synergize with regorafenib for treating sorafenib-resistant HCC.
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