International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2021-02-01)

Cooperative Role of Thrombopoietin and Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor-A in the Progression of Liver Cirrhosis to Hepatocellular Carcinoma

  • Barbara Vizio,
  • Ornella Bosco,
  • Ezio David,
  • Gian Paolo Caviglia,
  • Maria Lorena Abate,
  • Martina Schiavello,
  • Angela Pucci,
  • Antonina Smedile,
  • Gianluca Paraluppi,
  • Renato Romagnoli,
  • Enrico Lupia,
  • Graziella Bellone,
  • Giuseppe Montrucchio

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 1818
p. 1818


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Primary thrombopoietic mediator thrombopoietin (THPO) is mainly produced by the liver; it may act as a growth factor for hepatic progenitors. Principal angiogenesis inducer vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) is critical for the complex vascular network within the liver architecture. As a cross-regulatory loop between THPO and VEGF-A has been demonstrated in the hematopoietic system, the two growth factors were hypothesized to cooperatively contribute to the progression from liver cirrhosis (LC) to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The mRNA and protein expression levels of THPO, VEGF-A, and their receptors were examined, compared, and correlated in paired cancerous and LC tissues from 26 cirrhosis-related HCC patients, using qRT-PCR and immunohistochemistry. THPO and VEGF-A were alternatively silenced by small interfering RNA (siRNA) in human liver cancer cell lines Huh7 and HepG2. THPO and VEGF-A expressions significantly increased in tumor versus LC tissues. HCC and paired LC cells expressed similar levels of THPO receptor (R), whereas vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) -1 and VEGFR-2 levels were higher in HCC than in corresponding LC tissue samples. A significant linear correlation emerged between THPO and VEGF-A transcripts in HCC and, at the protein level, THPO and THPOR were significantly correlated with VEGF-A in tumor tissues. Both HCC and LC expressed similar levels of gene and protein hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1α. Positive cross-regulation occurred with the alternative administration of siRNAs targeting THPO and those targeting VEGF-A in hypoxic liver cancer cell lines. These results suggest THPO and VEGF-A might act as interdependently regulated autocrine and/or paracrine systems for cellular growth in HCC. This might be clinically interesting, since new classes of THPOR agonistic/antagonistic drugs may provide novel therapeutic options to correct the frequent hemostatic abnormality seen in HCC patients.