Radiotherapy has become an increasingly widespread modality for treating hepatocellular cancer (HCC); however, the development of radioresistance significantly limits its effectiveness and invariably leads to tumor recurrence. Cancer stem cell (CSC) theory offers a potential explanation for tumor relapse and radioresistance, but the underlying mechanism remains unknown. Herein we investigate the role of miRNA in molecular regulation of stemness and radioresistance in HCC. Two HCC radiation-resistant cell lines (Huh7-RR and SMMC-7721-RR) were established by selecting the radioresistant subpopulation from HCC cells via clonogenic survival assays. MiRNA Sequencing was used to identify potential radiosensitivity involved miRNA in HCC-RR cells. Xenograft tumor mouse model was established for in vivo study. CSC properties were assessed using sphere formation assay and side population (SP) cells analysis. We found that miR-34a-5p was significantly downregulated in HCC-RR cells. Overexpression of miR-34a-5p counteracts CSC properties and enhances radiosensitivity in HCC. Mechanistic investigation revealed that c-MYC is the direct target of miR-34a-5p. Overexpression of miR-34a-5p reversed c-MYC-induced radioresistance. Moreover, we found that the specific molecular mechanism was that c-MYC activated CHK1 and CHK2, which are two key DNA damage checkpoint kinases, and facilitated the DNA damage response to radiation. Repression of the miR-34a-5p-cMYC-CHK1/CHK2 axis contributes to the acquisition of radioresistance in HCC cells. In summary, the miR-34a-5p-c-MYC-CHK1/CHK2 axis counteracts cancer stem cell-like properties and enhances radiosensitivity in hepatocellular cancer through repression of the DNA damage response.

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