Expression of the serum response factor in hepatocellular carcinoma: implications for epithelial-mesenchymal transition

Min Young Park, Kyung Ryoul Kim, Ho Sung Park, Byung-Hyun Park, Ha Na Choi, Kyu Yun Jang, Myoung Ja Chung, Myoung Jae Kang, Dong Geun Lee, Woo Sung Moon
International Journal of Oncology 2007, 31 (6): 1309-15
The acquisition of a migratory and invasive phenotype by cells of epithelial origin is associated with a gain of mesenchymal characteristics concomitant with a loss of the epithelial phenotype, a phenomenon referred to as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Vimentin, a cytoplasmic intermediate filament, is characteristic of mesenchymal cells and is usually not expressed in epithelial cells. Increased expression of vimentin in carcinomas correlates with parameters of malignant potential such as tumor grade and tumor invasion. Serum response factor (SRF) regulates transcription of immediate early genes and triggers proliferation, migration and differentiation in several types of cells. However, the role of SRF in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has not been explored. The aims of this study were to evaluate the expression of SRF and to assess a functional role of SRF in HCC. First, we examined the expression of SRF in 55 human specimens of HCC and four different HCC cell lines, including a sarcomatoid HCC cell line. We also examined the role of SRF in HCC by transfection of an SRF expression plasmid into a HCC cell line. SRF was expressed in 13 of 55 cases of HCC. SRF was predominantly expressed in HCC cells, with intense labeling in the nucleus. No staining was observed in hepatocytes of normal and cirrhotic liver outside the tumor. SRF was significantly up-regulated in high grade HCC, especially in sarcomatoid HCC. Overexpression of SRF in hepatocellular carcinoma cells accelerates migration and invasion with subsequent acquisition of mesenchymal phenotype by expression of a mesenchymal marker (vimentin) and activation of immediate early genes. We propose for the first time that the expression of SRF in HCC cells associated with EMT may play an important role in HCC progression. Thus, functional antagonism of SRF will provide an additional therapeutic approach by controlling tumor cell invasion and metastasis.

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