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PloS one

Time-dependent effect of hypoxia on tumor progression and liver progenitor cell markers in primary liver tumors.


PMID 25793288

Abstract

Expression of liver progenitor cell (LPC) characteristics has been proposed as a negative prognostic marker in primary liver tumors. Hypoxia has been linked to activation of the Notch pathway which is responsible for activation and proliferation of LPCs and hypoxia-induced LPC activation has been shown in hepatocellular carcinoma. Our aim was to elucidate the time-dependent effects of hypoxia on the LPC niche in hepatocellular carcinoma which could aid in determining a safe time frame for use of hypoxia inducing therapies. We used dimethyloxaloylglycine to mimic a hypoxic reaction in mice by stabilizing hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha at three distinct time points in diethylnitrosamine induced hepatocarcinogenesis. LPC, metastasis and Notch pathway markers were determined by quantitative PCR and (immune)histochemistry (heamatoxillin-eosin, reticulin, Sirius red and cytokeratin 19 staining). Activating the hypoxia inducible pathway early in hepatocarcinogenesis resulted in an increased incidence of both cholangioma and hepatocellular lesions, associated with high expression of LPC, metastatic and Notch pathway markers. Adversely, activating the hypoxic response during tumor development resulted in decreased incidence of hepatocellular lesions and increased cholangioma incidence, with an unaltered gene expression profile of LPC-, Notch pathway- and metastatic markers. A hypoxic insult at advanced stages of hepatocarcinogenesis severely increased the expression of LPC characteristics, however without increased expression of actors of the Notch pathway and metastatic markers and minor changes in incidence of hepatocellular and cholangioma lesions. Our results indicate that increased hypoxia at the onset of tumor development has detrimental effects on tumor progression; patients with HCC developed in a background of fibrosis/cirrhosis might therefore represent a more difficult treatment group. In contrast, hypoxia during tumor development appears to favor tumor outcome, highlighting the importance of early detection. Finally, hypoxia in advanced stages resulted in increased expression of LPC characteristics indicating poor outcome.

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