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Hepatology. 2012 Jan;55(1):121-31. doi: 10.1002/hep.24653. Epub 2011 Dec 6.

Transforming growth factor-beta signaling promotes hepatocarcinogenesis induced by p53 loss.

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Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98109-1024, USA.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) results from the accumulation of deregulated tumor suppressor genes and/or oncogenes in hepatocytes. Inactivation of TP53 and inhibition of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) signaling are among the most common molecular events in human liver cancers. Thus, we assessed whether inactivation of TGF-β signaling, by deletion of the TGF-β receptor, type II (Tgfbr2), cooperates with Trp53 loss to drive HCC formation. Albumin-cre transgenic mice were crossed with floxed Trp53 and/or floxed Tgfbr2 mice to generate mice lacking p53 and/or Tgfbr2 in the liver. Deletion of Trp53 alone (Trp53(KO) ) resulted in liver tumors in approximately 41% of mice by 10 months of age, whereas inactivation of Tgfbr2 alone (Tgfbr2(KO) ) did not induce liver tumors. Surprisingly, deletion of Tgfbr2 in the setting of p53 loss (Trp53(KO) ;Tgfbr2(KO) ) decreased the frequency of mice with liver tumors to around 17% and delayed the age of tumor onset. Interestingly, Trp53(KO) and Trp53(KO) ;Tgfbr2(KO) mice develop both HCC and cholangiocarcinomas, suggesting that loss of p53, independent of TGF-β, may affect liver tumor formation through effects on a common liver stem cell population. Assessment of potential mechanisms through which TGF-β signaling may promote liver tumor formation in the setting of p53 loss revealed a subset of Trp53(KO) tumors that express increased levels of alpha-fetoprotein. Furthermore, tumors from Trp53(KO) mice express increased TGF-β1 levels compared with tumors from Trp53(KO) ;Tgfbr2(KO) mice. Increased phosphorylated Smad3 and ERK1/2 expression was also detected in the tumors from Trp53(KO) mice and correlated with increased expression of the TGF-β responsive genes, Pai1 and Ctgf.


TGF-β signaling paradoxically promotes the formation of liver tumors that arise in the setting of p53 inactivation.

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