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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Blockade of Wnt-1 signaling leads to anti-tumor effects in hepatocellular carcinoma cells

Wei Wei1, Mei-Sze Chua1*, Susan Grepper2 and Samuel K So1

Author Affiliations

1 Asian Liver Center, Department of Surgery, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

2 CellzDirect/Invitrogen, 4301 Emperor Blvd, Durham, NC 27703, USA

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Molecular Cancer 2009, 8:76  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-8-76

Published: 24 September 2009

Abstract

Background

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an aggressive cancer, and is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Standard therapy is ineffective partly because HCC is intrinsically resistant to conventional chemotherapy. Its poor prognosis and limited treatment options make it critical to develop novel and selective chemotherapeutic agents. Since the Wnt/β-catenin pathway is essential in HCC carcinogenesis, we studied the inhibition of Wnt-1-mediated signaling as a potential molecular target in HCC.

Results

We demonstrated that Wnt-1 is highly expressed in human hepatoma cell lines and a subgroup of human HCC tissues compared to paired adjacent non-tumor tissues. An anti-Wnt-1 antibody dose-dependently decreased viability and proliferation of Huh7 and Hep40 cells over-expressing Wnt-1 and harboring wild type β-catenin, but did not affect normal hepatocytes with undetectable Wnt-1 expression. Apoptosis was also observed in Huh7 and Hep40 cells after treatment with anti-Wnt-1 antibody. In these two cell lines, the anti-Wnt-1 antibody decreased β-catenin/Tcf4 transcriptional activities, which were associated with down-regulation of the endogenous β-catenin/Tcf4 target genes c-Myc, cyclin D1, and survivin. Intratumoral injection of anti-Wnt-1 antibody suppressed in vivo tumor growth in a Huh7 xenograft model, which was also associated with apoptosis and reduced c-Myc, cyclin D1, and survivin expressions.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that Wnt-1 is a survival factor for HCC cells, and that the blockade of Wnt-1-mediated signaling may offer a potential pathway-specific therapeutic strategy for the treatment of a subgroup of HCC that over-expresses Wnt-1.