In many human cancers, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), high density of infiltrating tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) is associated with poor prognosis. Most TAMs express a M2 phenotype subsequently supporting tumor growth. How tumor cells polarize these TAMs to a pro-tumor M2 phenotype is still poorly understood. Our previous studies have revealed that a Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2)-dependent autophagy triggered by hepatoma-derived factors down-regulates NF-κB p65 and drives M2 macrophage differentiation. However, the underlying mechanisms and potential hepatoma-derived TLR2 ligands are not clear. Here, we provide evidence to reveal that NADPH oxidase 2 (NOX2)-dependent reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation is crucial for HCC-induced autophagy, NF-κB p65 down-regulation and M2 phenotype polarization in primary macrophages. This NOX2-generated ROS production in abolished in TLR2-deficient macrophages. HCC-derived or recombinant high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) is able to trigger this TLR2-mediated M2 macrophage polarization. Blockage of HMGB1 and ROS by inhibitors, ethyl pyruvate and N-acetylcysteine amide, respectively, significantly reduces both M2 macrophage accumulation and liver nodule formation in HCC-bearing mice. Our findings uncover a HMGB1/TLR2/NOX2/autophagy axis to trigger M2 macrophage polarization in HCC that can be considered as a novel therapeutic target for treating HCC.
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