Accumulating evidence has demonstrated that FHIT (fragile histidine triad) is a bona fide tumour suppressor gene in a large fraction of human tumours, including hepatocellular cancer. A virus-based delivery system has been developed to transfer the FHIT gene into many types of cancer cells to inhibit growth or even induce apoptosis. However, a protein-based replacement strategy for FHIT has not been performed in cancer cells. Here, we used HIV-TAT (transactivator of transcription)-derived peptide to transfer the purified FHIT protein into HCC (hepatocellular carcinoma) cells and determine the biological effect of this fusion protein in inducing apoptosis. Affinity chromatography was used to purify TAT peptide-fused human FHIT (TAT–FHIT) protein from BL21 Escherichia coli. Immunofluorescence staining and Western blot analysis were performed to identify the expression and internalization of TAT–FHIT in HCC cells compared with the purified FHIT protein. Our study showed that TAT–FHIT protein can translocate into cancer cells in 1 h after incubation at 37°C. Furthermore, the results of MTT [3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide] assay, Annexin-V staining and Western blotting demonstrated that TAT–FHIT can robustly inhibit growth and induce apoptosis of HCC cells in vitro. In addition, a mechanistic study showed that both exogenous and intrinsic apoptotic pathways were involved in TAT–FHIT-mediated apoptosis and this effect could be attenuated partially by a mitochondrial protector TAT-BH4, indicating that mitochondrion plays a critical role in TAT–FHIT-mediated pro-apoptotic effect in cancer cells. Taken together, our study suggests that TAT–FHIT is a potential pro-apoptotic molecule in HCC cells and strengthen the hypothesis of its therapeutic application against HCC.

You do not currently have access to this content.