Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) represents a leading cause of deaths worldwide. Novel therapeutic targets for HCC are needed. Phospholipase D (PD) is involved in cell proliferation and migration, but its role in HCC remains unclear. In the present study, we show that PLD1, but not PLD2, was overexpressed in HCC cell lines (HepG2, Bel-7402 and Bel-7404) compared with the normal human L-02 hepatocytes. PLD1 was required for the proliferation, migration and invasion of HCC cells without affecting apoptosis and necrosis, and PLD1 overexpression was sufficient to promote those effects. By using HCC xenograft models, we demonstrated that therapeutic inhibition of PLD1 attenuated tumour growth and epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) in HCC mice. Moreover, PLD1 was found to be highly expressed in tumour tissues of HCC patients. Finally, mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) and Akt (protein kinase B) were identified as critical pathways responsible for the role of PLD1 in HCC cells. Taken together, the present study indicates that PLD1 activation contributes to HCC development via regulation of the proliferation, migration and invasion of HCC cells, as well as promoting the EMT process. These observations suggest that inhibition of PLD1 represents an attractive and novel therapeutic modality for HCC.

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