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Mol Cancer. 2008 Feb 18;7:21. doi: 10.1186/1476-4598-7-21.

Correlation between beta-catenin mutations and expression of Wnt-signaling target genes in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Institute for Biochemistry, Medical Faculty, University of Leipzig, Johannisallee 30, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


Aberrant Wnt-signaling caused by mutants of beta-catenin, a key regulator of the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway, is frequently detected in cancer. Only recently, it was suggested that in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) the expression of the target gene glutamine synthetase (GS) is a highly reliable marker for the identification of beta-catenin mutations. In order to prove this hypothesis, 52 samples from human hepatocellular carcinomas were analysed for the activation of beta-catenin and the expression of GS. In total, 45 samples stained positive for cytoplasmic/nuclear beta-catenin. A strong correlation between expression of GS and activated beta-catenin (100% of nuclear and 84% of cytosolic) was found. However, among 35 GS positive tumors that were analysed for beta-catenin mutations no mutations were detected in 25 GS-positive carcinomas although 24 out of the 25 carcinomas exhibited at least abnormal expression of beta-catenin. Since the mutational analysis identified 9 different point mutations of the beta-catenin gene including the rare mutation H36P and the yet unknown mutation P44A it was asked whether these mutations may differently effect beta-catenin target genes. Therefore, expression plasmids for different mutations were constructed and cotransfected with the TOP-flash luciferase reporter and a reporter carrying the GS-5'-enhancer. The experiments confirmed that there are differences between different beta-catenin target sequences and different beta-catenin mutations. In addition, the failure that the endogenous expression of GS in GS-negative cells was not induced by the transient transfection experiment indicated that the effect of beta-catenin on the GS-5'-enhancer is only one aspect of gene activation induced by beta-catenin.

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