The aggravated behaviors of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) will occur after inadequate thermal ablation. However, its underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Here, we assessed whether the increased matrix stiffness after thermal ablation could promote the progression of residual HCC. Heat-treated residual HCC cells were cultured on the tailorable 3D gel with different matrix stiffness simulating the changed physical environment after thermal ablation and then were explored the mechanical alterations of matrix stiffness on cell phenotypes. Increased stiffness was found to significantly promote the proliferation of the heat-treated residual HCC cells when the cells were cultured on stiffer versus soft supports, which was associated with stiffness-dependent regulation of extracellular-regulated-kinase (ERK) phosphorylation. Heat-exposed HCC cells were cultured on stiffer supports showed enhanced motility. More importantly, vitamin K1 reduced stiffness-dependent residual HCC cell proliferation via inhibiting ERK phosphorylation and suppressed the in vivo tumor growth, which was further enhanced by combining with sorafenib. Increased matrix stiffness promotes the progression of heat-treated residual HCC cells, proposing a new mechanism of an altered biomechanical environment after thermal ablation accelerating HCC development. Vitamin K1 plus sorafenib can reverse this pro-tumor effect.
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