Liver cancer-derived hepatitis C virus core proteins shift TGF-beta responses from tumor suppression to epithelial-mesenchymal transition.PLoS One 2009; 4(2):e4355Plos
Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and associated liver cirrhosis represent a major risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development. TGF-beta is an important driver of liver fibrogenesis and cancer; however, its actual impact in human cancer progression is still poorly known. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of HCC-derived HCV core natural variants on cancer progression through their impact on TGF-beta signaling.
We provide evidence that HCC-derived core protein expression in primary human or mouse hepatocyte alleviates TGF-beta responses in terms or growth inhibition or apoptosis. Instead, in these hepatocytes TGF-beta was still able to induce an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process that contributes to the promotion of cell invasion and metastasis. Moreover, we demonstrate that different thresholds of Smad3 activation dictate the TGF-beta responses in hepatic cells and that HCV core protein, by decreasing Smad3 activation, may switch TGF-beta growth inhibitory effects to tumor promoting responses.
Our data illustrate the capacity of hepatocytes to develop EMT and plasticity under TGF-beta, emphasize the role of HCV core protein in the dynamic of these effects and provide evidence for a paradigm whereby a viral protein implicated in oncogenesis is capable to shift TGF-beta responses from cytostatic effects to EMT development.