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Life Sci. 1999;64(1):17-23.

Alpha-fetoprotein enhances the proliferation of human hepatoma cells in vitro.

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Shanghai Institute of Cell Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, People's Republic of China.


Although the biological functions of alpha-fetoprotein ( AFP ) have been extensively studied, little is known about its effect on tumor cell growth. Our previous work has found that human AFP significantly stimulates the growth of mouse hepatoma cells in vitro. The purpose of the present study is to observe the effect of AFP on the proliferation of human hepatoma cells in vitro. Using a MTT- microculture tetrazolium assay, we found that the proliferation of human hepatoma cells was enhanced by in vitro treatment of AFP. However, the same concentrations of AFP had no effect on HL - 60 human leukemia cell proliferation, indicating that the human hepatoma cell proliferation - promoting role of AFP was not simply due to non-specific addition of exogenous protein and the proliferation enhancement of AFP showed certain tumor cell specificity. On the other hand, the growth stimulation of AFP could be diminished by rabbit anti - human AFP antibody. The anti- AFP antibody alone suppressed the growth of BEL - 7404 human hepatoma cells, not affecting HL - 60 cell proliferation. BEL - 7404 cell proliferation was not inhibited by normal rabbit immunoglobulins to demonstrate the specificity of anti-AFP effect. Taken together, it is concluded that AFP enhances the proliferation of human hepatoma cells in vitro, and this effect is seemingly mediated by an AFP/receptor autocrine pathway.

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