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Simultaneous Inhibition of Mcl-1 and Bcl-2 Induces Synergistic Cell Death in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Despite the recent approval of new therapies, the prognosis for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains poor. There is a clinical need for new highly effective therapeutic options. Here, we present a combined application of BH3-mimetics as a potential new treatment option for HCC. BH3-mimetics inhibit anti-apoptotic proteins of the BCL-2 family and, thus, trigger the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. Anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins such as Bcl-2 and Mcl-1 are frequently overexpressed in HCC. Therefore, we analyzed the efficacy of the two BH3-mimetics ABT-199 (Bcl-2 inhibitor) and MIK665 (Mcl-1 inhibitor) in HCC cell lines with differential expression levels of endogenous Bcl-2 and Mcl-1. While administration of one BH3-mimetic alone did not substantially trigger cell death, the combination of two inhibitors enhanced induction of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. Both drugs acted synergistically, highlighting the effectivity of this specific BH3-mimetic combination, particularly in HCC cell lines. These results indicate the potential of combining inhibitors of the BCL-2 family as new therapeutic options in HCC.

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