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Hepatology. 2012 Jun;55(6):1776-86. doi: 10.1002/hep.25570.

A fibrous stromal component in hepatocellular carcinoma reveals a cholangiocarcinoma-like gene expression trait and epithelial-mesenchymal transition.

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Department of Pathology, Brain Korea 21 Project for Medical Science, Center for Chronic Metabolic Disease, Integrated Genomic Research Center for Metabolic Regulation, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cholangiocarcinoma (CC) are the major primary liver cancers in adults. The phenotypic overlap between HCC and CC has been shown to comprise a continuous liver cancer spectrum. As a proof of this concept, a recent study demonstrated a genomic subtype of HCC that expressed CC-like gene expression traits, such as CC-like HCC, which revealed the common genomic trait of stem-cell-like properties and aggressive clinical outcomes. Scirrhous HCC (S-HCC), a rare variant of HCC, is characterized by abundant fibrous stroma and has been known to express several liver stem/progenitor cell markers. This suggests that S-HCC may harbor common intermediate traits between HCC and CC, including stem-cell traits, which are similar to those of CC-like HCC. However, the molecular and pathological characteristics of S-HCC have not been fully evaluated. By performing gene-expression profiling and immunohistochemical evaluation, we compared the morphological and molecular features of S-HCC with those of CC and HCC. S-HCC expresses both CC-like and stem-cell-like genomic traits. In addition, we observed the expression of core epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)-related genes, which may contribute to the aggressive behavior of S-HCC. Overexpression of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) signaling was also found, implying its regulatory role in the pathobiology of S-HCC.


We suggest that the fibrous stromal component in HCC may contribute to the acquisition of CC-like gene-expression traits in HCC. The expression of stem-cell-like traits and TGF-β/EMT molecules may play a pivotal role in the aggressive phenotyping of S-HCC. (HEPATOLOGY 2012;55:1776-1786).

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