Nuclear beta-catenin induces an early liver progenitor phenotype in hepatocellular carcinoma and promotes tumor recurrence.

TitleNuclear beta-catenin induces an early liver progenitor phenotype in hepatocellular carcinoma and promotes tumor recurrence.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsZulehner G, Mikula M, Schneller D, van Zijl F, Huber H, Sieghart W, Grasl-Kraupp B, Waldhör T, Peck-Radosavljevic M, Beug H, Mikulits W
JournalThe American journal of pathology
Date Published2010 Jan

Transforming growth factor-beta cooperates with oncogenic Ras to activate nuclear beta-catenin during the epithelial to mesenchymal transition of hepatocytes, a process relevant in the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In this study we investigated the role of beta-catenin in the differentiation of murine, oncogene-targeted hepatocytes and in 133 human HCC patients scheduled for orthotopic liver transplantation. Transforming growth factor-beta caused dissociation of plasma membrane E-cadherin/beta-catenin complexes and accumulation of nuclear beta-catenin in Ras-transformed, but otherwise normal hepatocytes in p19(ARF)-/- mice. Both processes were inhibited by Smad7-mediated disruption of transforming growth factor-beta signaling. Overexpression of constitutively active beta-catenin resulted in high levels of CK19 and M2-PK, whereas ablation of beta-catenin by axin overexpression caused strong expression of CK8 and CK18. Therefore, nuclear beta-catenin resulted in dedifferentiation of neoplastic hepatocytes to immature progenitor cells, whereas loss of nuclear beta-catenin led to a differentiated HCC phenotype. Poorly differentiated human HCC showed cytoplasmic redistribution or even loss of E-cadherin, suggesting epithelial to mesenchymal transition. Analysis of 133 HCC patient samples revealed that 58.6% of human HCC exhibited strong nuclear beta-catenin accumulation, which correlated with clinical features such as vascular invasion and recurrence of disease after orthotopic liver transplantation. These data suggest that activation of beta-catenin signaling causes dedifferentiation to malignant, immature hepatocyte progenitors and facilitates recurrence of human HCC after orthotopic liver transplantation.

Alternate JournalAm. J. Pathol.