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J Mol Med (Berl). 2005 Oct;83(10):774-85. Epub 2005 Jun 23.

Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha and liver cancer: where do we stand?

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Science and Center for Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 16802, USA.


The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha (PPARalpha), first identified in 1990 as a member of the nuclear receptor superfamily, has a central role in the regulation of numerous target genes encoding proteins that modulate fatty acid transport and catabolism. PPARalpha is the molecular target for the widely prescribed lipid-lowering fibrate drugs and the diverse class of chemicals collectively referred to as peroxisome proliferators. The lipid-lowering function of PPARalpha occurs across a number of mammalian species, thus demonstrating the essential role of this nuclear receptor in lipid homeostasis. In contrast, prolonged administration of PPARalpha agonists causes hepatocarcinogenesis, specifically in rats and mice, indicating that PPARalpha also mediates this effect. There is no strong evidence that the low-affinity fibrate ligands are associated with cancer in humans, but it still remains a possibility that chronic activation with high-affinity ligands could be carcinogenic in humans. It is now established that the species difference between rodents and humans in response to peroxisome proliferators is due in part to PPARalpha. The cascade of molecular events leading to liver cancer in rodents involves hepatocyte proliferation and oxidative stress, but the PPARalpha target genes that mediate this response are unknown. This review focuses on the current understanding of the role of PPARalpha in hepatocarcinogenesis and identifies future research directions that should be taken to delineate the mechanisms underlying PPARalpha agonist-induced hepatocarcinogenesis.

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