Indexed on: 01 Mar '11Published on: 01 Mar '11Published in: Hormone molecular biology and clinical investigation
We investigated aromatase (Aro)-driven estrogen formation in non-tumoral and malignant liver tissues and cells, also in relation to expression of the estrogen receptors α and β (ERα and ERβ) and amphiregulin (AREG), aiming to gain insights into the potential role of estrogens in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).Chromatographic and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analyses were used to assess activity and expression of the Aro enzyme and AREG as well as the expression of wild-type and variant ERs, both in vivo and in vitro.Following 24 h and 72 h incubation of liver tissues or cells with testosterone, human HCC tissues and HepG2 hepatoma cells showed elevated Aro activity (estrogen formation, respectively, of 20% and 52%-99%). By contrast, no Aro activity could be detected in non-tumoral tissues and HA22T liver cancer cells. Cirrhotic samples and Huh7 cells exhibited intermediate enzyme activity, with estrogen formation of 4% and 34%, respectively. Markedly lower or undetectable Aro mRNA levels were observed in HA22T cells and non-tumoral liver tissues compared with HepG2 cells and HCC samples. Cirrhotic specimens displayed variable transcript levels. Interestingly, no or low expression of wild-type ERα and ERβ could be observed in liver cancer cells and malignant tissues. However, ubiquitous expression of the hERα46 variant and occasional expression of the hERβ2/Cx variant were observed in cancer tissues and cells.It is noteworthy that the pattern of wild-type ERα was inversely related to Aro, whilst AREG expression was consistently associated with that of Aro. This combined evidence suggests that locally elevated Aro activity may increase malignant cell proliferation also through AREG signalling.