The molecular connection of histopathological heterogeneity in hepatocellular carcinoma: A role of Wnt and Hedgehog signaling pathways.

PLoS One

BACKGROUND: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is leading cause of cancer-related mortality and is categorized among the most common malignancies around the world. It is a heterogeneous tumor, which shows significant degree of histopathological heterogeneity. Despite the apparent histopathological diversity there has been very little distinct correlation between histopathological features and molecular aberrations particularly when it comes to the expression level of Wnt and Hh pathway molecules. The role of Wnt and Hh pathways in relation to HCC behavior viz. histopathological heterogeneity and aggressiveness is not known. Determining the sequential molecular changes and associated histopathological characteristic during HCC initiation, promotion, and progression would probably lead to a better treatment and prognosis.

METHODS: N-Nitrosodiethylamine (DEN) induced HCC model in male Wistar rats were established to study the expression level of Wnt and Hh pathway molecules during different stages of hepatocarcinogenesis. Their expression levels were checked at mRNA and protein levels at initiation, promotion, and progression stages of HCC. The expression levels of Wnt and Hh pathway molecules were correlated with biospecimens of HCC patients of different stages.

RESULTS: In the present study we identified the comprehensive change in the expression pattern of Wnt and Hh pathway molecules in DEN induced rodent hepatocarcinogenesis model. Our results demonstrate that β-catenin /CTNNB1 plays important role in tumor initiation and promotion by stimulating tumor cell proliferation. The activated Wnt signaling in early stage of HCC is associated with well-differentiated histological pattern. The Hh activity although activated during the initiation stage but is significantly increased during the early promotion stage of hepatocarcinogenesis. The increased activity of both Wnt & Hh pathways during promotion stage is associated with moderately-differentiated histological pattern and was simultaneously linked with an increased expression of MMP9. Furthermore, our data demonstrated that during the progression stage Wnt pathway is modestly down-regulated but the Hh pathway activity sustained which in turn is associated with aggressive and invasive phenotype and poorly-differentiated histopathology.

CONCLUSION: Our data uncovers the grade related expression of Wnt and Hh pathway molecules and the potential utility of these molecular signatures in daily clinical practice is to decide best therapy according to patients characteristic. Additionally, our data offer insight into the interaction between Wnt and Hh pathways which triggers HCC development and progression.

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PLoS One
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