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Carcinogenesis. 2013 May;34(5):962-73. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgt027. Epub 2013 Jan 27.

Wnt/β-catenin signaling enhances hypoxia-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition in hepatocellular carcinoma via crosstalk with hif-1α signaling.

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  • 1Department of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery, Second Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Hangzhou 310009, China.


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a critical process for tumor invasion and metastasis. Hypoxia may induce EMT, and upregulated β-catenin expression has been found in various tumors. In this study, we investigate the role of β-catenin in hypoxia-induced EMT in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Induction of EMT in HCC cell lines by hypoxia was confirmed by altered morphology, expression change of EMT-associated markers and enhanced invasion capacity. We showed that hypoxia-induced EMT could be enhanced by addition of recombinant Wnt3a while it was repressed by β-catenin small interfering RNA. An interaction between β-catenin and hypoxia-induced factor-1α (hif-1α) was found, and an underlying competition for β-catenin between hif-1α and T-cell factor-4 was implied. Notably, increased hif-1α activity was accompanied with more significant EMT features. We also showed that the pro-EMT effect of β-catenin in hypoxia was deprived in the absence of hif-1α. Moreover, β-catenin was found to be responsible for the maintenance of viability and proliferation for tumor cells undergoing hypoxia. We further showed a correlation between hif-1α and β-catenin expression, and corresponding expression of EMT-associated markers in human HCC tissues. Our results suggest that Wnt/β-catenin signaling enhances hypoxia-induced EMT in HCC by increasing the EMT-associated activity of hif-1α and preventing tumor cell death.

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