Castillo J, Erroba E, Perugorria MJ, Santamaria M, Lee DC, Prieto J, et al. Amphiregulin contributes to the transformed phenotype of human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Cancer Res 2006 Jun 15;66(12):6129-6138.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is a major cause of cancer-related deaths. Current treatments are not effective, and the identification of relevant pathways and novel therapeutic targets are much needed. Increasing evidences point to the activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) as an important mechanism in the development of hepatocarcinoma. We previously described that amphiregulin (AR), a ligand of the EGFR, is not expressed in healthy liver but is up-regulated during chronic liver injury, the background on which most liver tumors develop. Now, we have studied the expression and role of AR in human hepatocarcinoma. AR expression and function was studied in human liver tumors and cell lines. AR is expressed in human hepatocellular carcinoma tissues and cell lines and behaves as a mitogenic and antiapoptotic growth factor for hepatocarcinoma cells. We provide several lines of evidence, including AR silencing by small interfering RNAs and inhibition of amphiregulin by neutralizing antibodies, showing the existence of an AR-mediated autocrine loop that contributes to the transformed phenotype. Indeed, interference with endogenous AR production resulted in reduced constitutive EGFR signaling, inhibition of cell proliferation, anchorage-independent growth, and enhanced apoptosis. Moreover, knockdown of AR potentiated transforming growth factor-beta and doxorubicin-induced apoptosis. Conversely, overexpression of AR in SK-Hep1 cells enhanced their proliferation rate, anchorage-independent growth, drug resistance, and in vivo tumorigenic potential. These observations suggest that AR is involved in the acquisition of neoplastic traits in the liver and thus constitutes a novel therapeutic target in human hepatocarcinoma.