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Carcinogenesis. 2004 Mar;25(3):389-97. Epub 2003 Nov 21.

IFN-alpha prevents the growth of pre-neoplastic lesions and inhibits the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in the rat.

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  • 1Division of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine, 7-5-1 Kusunoki-cho, Chu-ku Kobe 650-0017, Japan.


Interferon (IFN)-alpha treatment is a common therapy for chronic viral hepatitis and contributes to preventing hepatocarcinogenesis. However, it is not clear whether IFN-alpha directly inhibits the clonal expansion of pre-neoplastic hepatocytes. To clarify the mechanism by which IFN-alpha prevents hepatocarcinogenesis, we examined the effect of IFN-alpha in a chemically induced hepatocarcinogenesis model initiated by diethylnitrosamine (DEN) and promoted by 2-acetylaminofluorene (2-AAF) and partial hepatectomy, in which hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) arises through pre-neoplastic foci without inflammation or fibrosis. The protocols of IFN-alpha administration were started simultaneously with chemical initiation and lasted for either 4 or 40 weeks. The pre-neoplastic foci and neoplastic HCC were evaluated at 4 or 40 weeks after chemical initiation, respectively. The effects of IFN-alpha were assessed by the expression of tumor-related genes and cell cycle-related genes in the pre-neoplastic foci, using immunohistochemistry and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). As a result of IFN-alpha treatment, the numbers and average volume of pre-neoplastic foci were reduced. The proliferating cell nuclear antigen index and the expression of G(1) cyclins were also reduced in the pre-neoplastic foci in the IFN-treated group. The expression of p21, which is an inhibitor of cyclin-kinase complexes was higher in the foci of the IFN-treated group, while p53 expression was not altered in this group, compared with the control group. IFN-alpha also suppressed the tumor development at 40 weeks after initiation. And in the long-term IFN-alpha-treated group, both the tumor numbers and average tumor size were markedly more reduced than those in the short-term-treated group. Therefore, it was demonstrated that longer treatment with IFN-alpha was more effective, compared with shorter treatment. In conclusion, it was shown that IFN-alpha directly prevented and delayed hepatocarcinogenesis through the suppression of pre-neoplastic cell proliferation and that it may partially depend on p21 induction through a p53-independent pathway.

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