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Cell Growth Differ. 2002 Mar;13(3):115-22.

A possible role for insulin-like growth factor-binding protein-3 autocrine/paracrine loops in controlling hepatocellular carcinoma cell proliferation.

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Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology, National Cancer Centre of Singapore, Singapore.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a common malignancy, but treatment outcomes have generally remained poor. Specific factors important for the pathogenesis of HCC are incompletely understood. Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) are potent autocrine and paracrine mitogens for liver cancer cell proliferation, and their bioactivity is reduced by IGF-binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3). In the present study, we report that IGFBP-3 protein levels were either undetectable (28.5%) or low (71.5%) in human HCC samples examined compared with matched non-neoplastic liver tissue by Western blotting. IGFBP-3 was localized to nontumor liver cells by immunohistochemistry with greater immunointensity than neoplastic liver cells. Levels of type I receptor (IGF-IR) were found to be low in approximately 39% of human HCC samples examined compared with matched nontumor tissues. IGF-II was overexpressed in 32%, whereas IGF-I expression was decreased in 100% of HCC samples. In vitro studies revealed that IGF-I and IGF-II induced HepG2 cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner. Treatment of HepG2 cells with either human recombinant IGFBP-3 (hrIGFBP-3) or IGF-II antibody led to a significant reduction in cell proliferation. Cotreating these cells with hrIGFBP-3 significantly attenuated the mitogenic activity of IGF-I. IGF-I-induced phosphorylation of IGF-IR beta subunit, IRS-1, mitogen-activated protein kinase, Elk-1, and Akt-1 as well as phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase activity was significantly attenuated when hepG2 cells were pretreated with hrIGFBP-3. Our data indicate that loss of autocrine/paracrine IGFBP-3 loops may lead to HCC tumor growth and suggest that modulating production of the IGFs, IGFBP-3, and IGF-IR may represent a novel approach in the treatment of HCC.

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