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Cancer Cell Int. 2016 Jun 13;16:44. doi: 10.1186/s12935-016-0318-1. eCollection 2016.

Influence of TP53 and CDH1 genes in hepatocellular cancer spheroid formation and culture: a model system to understand cancer cell growth mechanics.

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Department of Pathology, University of New Mexico, Room 308, MSC06-4840, Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA.
Department of Pathology, University of New Mexico, Room 308, MSC06-4840, Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA ; Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of New Mexico, Room 333A, MSC08-4640, Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA.



Spheroid based culture methods are gaining prominence to elucidate the role of the microenvironment in liver carcinogenesis. Additionally, the phenomenon of epithelial-mesenchymal transition also plays an important role in determining the metastatic potential of liver cancer. Tumor spheroids are thus important models to understand the basic biology of liver cancer.


We cultured, characterized and examined the formation of compact 3-D micro-tumor spheroids in five hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines, each with differing TP53 mutational status (wt vs mutant vs null). Spheroid viability and death was systematically measured over a course of a 10 day growth period using various assays. We also examined the TP53 and E-cadherin (CDH1) mRNA and protein expression status in each cell line of the 2-D and 3-D cell models.


A novel finding of our study was the identification of variable 3-D spheroid morphology in individual cell lines, ranging from large and compact, to small and unstable spheroid morphologies. The observed morphological differences between the spheroids were robust and consistent over the duration of spheroid culture growth of 10 days in a repeatable manner. Highly variable CDH1 expression was identified depending on the TP53 mutational status of the individual HCC cell line, which may explain the variable spheroid morphology. We observed consistent patterns of TP53 and CDH1 expression in both 2-D and 3-D culture models.


In conclusion, we show that 3-D spheroids are a useful model to determine the morphological growth characteristics of cell lines which are not immediately apparent in routine 2-D culture methods. 3-D culture methods may provide a better alternative to study the process of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) which is important in the process of liver cancer metastasis.


CDH1; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hepatocellular carcinoma; TP53; Tumor spheroids

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