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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42717. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042717. Epub 2012 Aug 13.

Heparin inhibits Hepatocyte Growth Factor induced motility and invasion of hepatocellular carcinoma cells through early growth response protein 1.

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Department of Medical Biology and Genetics, School of Medicine, Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey.


The Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF)/c-Met signaling pathway regulates hepatocyte proliferation, and pathway aberrations are implicated in the invasive and metastatic behaviors of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In addition to c-Met, heparin acts as a co-receptor to modulate pathway activity. Recently, anti-metastatic and anti-cancer effects of heparin have been reported. However, the role of heparin in the regulation of HGF signaling remains controversial and the effects of heparin on HGF-induced biological responses during hepatocarcinogenesis is not yet defined. In this study we determined the effects of heparin on HGF-induced activities of HCC cells and the underlying molecular mechanisms. Here, we report for the first time that heparin inhibits HGF-induced adhesion, motility and invasion of HCC cells. In addition, heparin reduced HGF-induced activation of c-Met and MAPK in a dose-dependent manner, as well as decreased transcriptional activation and expression of Early growth response factor 1 (Egr1). HGF-induced MMP-2 and MMP-9 activation, and MT1-MMP expression, also were inhibited by heparin. Stable knockdown of Egr1 caused a significant decrease in HGF-induced invasion, as well as the activation and expression of MMPs. Parallel to these findings, the overexpression of Egr1 increased the invasiveness of HCC cells. Our results suggest that Egr1 activates HGF-induced cell invasion through the regulation of MMPs in HCC cells and heparin inhibits HGF-induced cellular invasion via the downregulation of Egr1. Therefore, heparin treatment might be a therapeutic approach to inhibit invasion and metastasis of HCC, especially for patients with active HGF/c-Met signaling.

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