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J Hepatol. 2011 May;54(5):948-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2010.08.041. Epub 2010 Nov 13.

Peritumoral neutrophils link inflammatory response to disease progression by fostering angiogenesis in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, PR China.



Substantial evidence indicates that inflammation is a critical component of tumor progression. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is usually derived from inflamed cirrhotic liver with extensive leukocyte infiltration. Neutrophils are the common inflammatory infiltrate in tumors, but their nature and regulation in human cancers remain elusive.


A total of 238 HCC patients were enrolled randomly. Immunohistochemistry and SuperArray Real-Time PCR were used to analyze the distribution and clinical relevance of neutrophils in different microanatomical areas. The regulation and function of neutrophils were assessed by both in vitro and in vivo studies.


Neutrophils were enriched predominantly in peritumoral stroma of HCC tissues and their levels could serve as a powerful predictor for poor survival in HCC patients. Proinflammatory IL-17 is a critical mediator of the recruitment of neutrophils into peritumoral stroma of HCC tissues by epithelial cell-derived CXC chemokines. The accumulated peritumoral neutrophils were the major source of matrix metalloproteinase-9 in HCC tissues; this secreted protein stimulated proangiogenic activity in hepatoma cells. Accordingly, high infiltration of peritumoral neutrophils was positively correlated with angiogenesis progression at tumor-invading edge of HCC patients. Furthermore, we found that selective depletion of neutrophils effectively inhibited tumor angiogenesis and growth, in vivo.


These data provide direct evidence supporting the critical role of neutrophils in human tumor progression and reveal a fine-tuned collaborative action between cancer cells and immune cells in distinct tumor milieu, which reroutes the inflammatory response into a tumor-promoting direction.

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