mTOR and P70 S6 kinase expression in primary liver neoplasms

Fikret Sahin, Rajesh Kannangai, Onikepe Adegbola, Jianzhou Wang, Gloria Su, Michael Torbenson
Clinical Cancer Research 2004 December 15, 10 (24): 8421-5

PURPOSE: mTOR and P70 S6 kinase (S6K) play a key role in regulating protein translation. The role of mTOR and S6K in hepatocellular carcinoma has not been investigated, but this pathway is of particular interest because an effective inhibitor, rapamycin, is available. This study was undertaken to determine the prevalence and clinicopathological correlates of mTOR pathway activation in hepatocellular carcinoma and to determine whether rapamycin inhibits the pathway in cell culture.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Total and phosphorylated mTOR and S6K protein expression were studied by immunohistochemistry in hepatocellular carcinomas (n = 73), fibrolamellar carcinomas (n = 13), and hepatic adenomas (n = 15). Results were correlated with tumor growth pattern as defined by the WHO (trabecular, pseudoglandular/acinar, compact, and scirrhous), tumor size, Ki-67 proliferation index, and the modified Edmondson nuclear grade, which has a scale of 1 to 4. HepG2 and Hep3B cell lines were treated with rapamycin to see the effect on proliferation and S6K phosphorylation.

RESULTS: Increased expression of total mTOR was seen in 5% of hepatocellular carcinoma, whereas overexpression of phospho-mTOR was evident in 15% of hepatocellular carcinoma. Phospho-mTOR positivity correlated with increased expression of total S6K, which was found in 45% of cases. Total S6K overexpression was positively correlated with tumor nuclear grade, inversely with tumor size, and was unassociated with the proliferation index or WHO growth pattern. Rapamycin treatment of HepG2 and Hep3B cell lines markedly inhibited cell proliferation and reduced S6K phosphorylation in both cell lines.

CONCLUSIONS: The mTOR pathway is activated in a subset of hepatocellular carcinoma. Rapamycin can inhibit proliferation of neoplastic hepatocytes in cell culture.

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