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Int J Cancer. 2002 Feb 1;97(4):425-31.

Clinical role of MMP-2/TIMP-2 imbalance in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Section of Internal Medicine, University of Bari Medical School, Bari, Italy.


An imbalance between the proteolytic activity of matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) and the tissue inhibitor of MMP-2 (TIMP-2) is responsible for degradation of extracellular matrix (ECM) components and plays a critical role in tumor invasion and in metastasis formation. The occurrence of intra-hepatic metastasis, which severely affects prognosis and long-term survival, is commonly observed in the course of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We investigated the expression of MT1-MMP in tissues, whereas both MMP-2 and TIMP-2 were evaluated in the sera and tissues (primary and metastatic nodules) of HCC patients with and without metastasis, whose clinical outcome was followed over a 2-year period. MT1-MMP expression was similar among primary nodule tissues of patients with and without metastasis. Serum and tissue levels of MMP-2 were not statistically different between patients with and without metastasis, but MMP-2 was concentrated at the invasive edge of the metastatic tissue. On the contrary, serum and tissue levels of TIMP-2 were significantly higher in HCC patients without metastasis than in those with. This situation was not only observed in the primary HCC tissues, but also in the metastatic nodules. These results correlate with the clinical outcome, because more than 90% of the patients with high levels of TIMP-2 were still alive after 2 years, whereas less than 30% with low levels of TIMP-2 had survived. Furthermore, we found a strict correlation between tissue and serum levels of TIMP-2, this suggesting that a MMP-2/TIMP-2 imbalance and in particular TIMP-2 levels, could represent an important prognostic factor in patients with HCC.

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