Purpose: There is no standardized treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with portal vein tumor thrombus. We previously reported the efficacy of interferon-alpha and 5-fluorouracil combination (IFN/5-FU) therapy for these patients and the potential mechanism via the regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In this study, we showed the VEGF-related effects of IFN/5-FU therapy using VEGF-receptor (VEGFR) selective inhibitor, PTK787/ZK222584 (PTK/ZK), in HCC cells. Methods: Using two VEGF secreting and VEGFR expressing human HCC cell lines, PLC/PRF/5 and HuH7, we performed growth inhibitory assays in vitro and in vivo, apoptosis assay, cell cycle analysis, and Western blot analysis for the mechanism, with or without PTK/ZK in IFN/5-FU therapy. Results: The combination of PTK/ZK and IFN/5-FU significantly inhibited cell growth in vitro and tended to reduce tumor growth in vivo in a HuH7 xenograft model in nude mice-in both cases without affecting VEGF secretion. PTK/ZK enhanced the IFN/5-FU induced apoptosis, based on increased proteins levels of Bax and reduced Bcl-xL and Bcl-2. Cell cycle analysis showed different results between the HCC cell lines following the combination therapy, possibly due to differences in p21 protein. Conclusions: VEGF signaling inhibition would support an antitumor effect of IFN/5-FU therapy against HCC cell lines via induction of apoptosis and cell cycle delay.
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