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Cancer Res. 2006 Dec 1;66(23):11263-70.

Hypoxia-independent overexpression of hypoxia-inducible factor 1alpha as an early change in mouse hepatocarcinogenesis.

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Department of Pathology, Asahikawa Medical College, Dohoku National Hospital, Asahikawa, Japan.


Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is involved in tumor progression/metastasis and activated in various cancers. Here we show that HIF-1alpha, which plays a major role in HIF-1 activation, is overexpressed in preneoplastic hepatocytic lesions from a very early stage during hepatocarcinogenesis in mice and man. Transcriptional targets of HIF-1, such as vascular endothelial growth factor, glut-1, c-met, and insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II), were also overexpressed in mouse lesions. Oxygen tension within the lesions was not different from that of the normal hepatic tissues, indicating that HIF-1alpha expression was independent of hypoxia. On the other hand, Akt, the pathway of which can up-regulate HIF-1alpha expression, was activated in the mouse lesions, whereas HIF-1alpha was markedly down-regulated in the mouse hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines after treatment with a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) inhibitor, LY294002, indicating that HIF-1alpha expression is dependent on PI3K/Akt signaling. Conversely, HIF-1alpha knockdown by short interfering RNA in the HCC cell line resulted in decreased expression of activated Akt together with the HIF-1 target genes, indicating that Akt activation is reversely dependent on HIF-1 activation. Treating the HCC cells with IGF-II or epidermal growth factor (EGF) up-regulated both phospho-Akt and HIF-1alpha, whereas inhibition of IGF-II or EGF signaling down-regulated them both, suggesting that IGF-II and EGF can, at least in part, mediate the activation of Akt and HIF-1alpha. However, Akt was not activated by IGF-II or EGF in the HIF-1alpha knockdown cells, indicating that expression of the HIF-1 target genes is necessary for the Akt activation. These findings suggest that the reciprocal activation of PI3K/Akt signaling and HIF-1alpha may be important in the progression of hepatocarcinogenesis.

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