Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common primary malignant tumor worldwide; however, the traditional therapeutic approaches and survival rates are still limited. To improve current therapies, it is necessary to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying liver cancer and to identify potential therapeutic targets. The aims of this study were to verify the mechanisms and therapeutic potential of the ketogenesis rate-limiting enzyme 3-Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA synthase 2 (HMGCS2) in HCC. Immunohistochemical staining of human liver disease tissue arrays showed that HMGCS2 is abundantly expressed in normal liver tissues but is downregulated in cirrhosis and HCC tissues. In HCC patients, lower HMGCS2 expression was correlated with higher pathological grades and clinical stages. In our investigation of the molecular mechanisms of HMGCS2 in HCC, we showed that knockdown of HMGCS2 decreased ketone production, which promoted cell proliferation, cell migration, and xenograft tumorigenesis by enhancing c-Myc/cyclinD1 and EMT signaling and by suppressing the caspase-dependent apoptosis pathway. Ketone body treatment reduced the proliferation-and migration-promoting effects of HMGCS2 knockdown in cells. In contrast, HMGCS2 overexpression increased the intracellular ketone level and inhibited cell proliferation, cell migration, and xenograft tumorigenesis. Finally, ketogenic diet administration significantly inhibited liver cancer cell growth in mice. Our studies highlight the potential therapeutic strategy of targeting HMGCS2-mediated ketogenesis in liver cancer.
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