7-Ketocholesterol (7-KC) is found at an elevated level in patients with cancer and chronic liver disease. The up-regulation of an efflux pump, P-glycoprotein (P-gp) leads to drug resistance. To elucidate the effect of 7-KC on P-gp, P-gp function and expression were investigated in hepatoma cell lines Huh-7 and HepG2 and in primary hepatocyte-derived HuS-E/2 cells. At a subtoxic concentration, 48-h exposure to 7-KC reduced the intracellular accumulation and cytotoxicity of P-gp substrate doxorubicin in hepatoma cells, but not in HuS-E/2 cells. In Huh-7 cells, 7-KC elevated efflux function through the activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. 7-KC activated the downstream protein synthesis initiation factor 4E-BP1 and induced P-gp expression post-transcriptionally. The stimulation of efflux was reversible and could not be prevented by N-acetyl cysteine. Total cellular ATP content remained the same, whereas the lactate production was increased and fluorescence lifetime of protein-bound NADH was shortened. These changes suggested a metabolic shift to glycolysis, but glycolytic inhibitors did not eliminate 7-KC-mediated P-gp induction. These results demonstrate that 7-KC induces P-gp through PI3K/mTOR signaling and decreased the cell-killing efficacy of doxorubicin in hepatoma cells.
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