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A novel three-dimensional culture system maintaining the physiological extracellular matrix of fibrotic model livers accelerates progression of hepatocellular carcinoma cells.


Liver fibrosis is characterized by the progressive accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) and is a strong predictor of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development and progression. However, the effect of ECM in fibrotic livers on HCC cells is poorly understood. The aims of this study were to create a new culture system that retained the natural ECM of fibrotic model livers and to establish whether natural ECM regulated the characteristics of HCC cells. Using an organ decellularization technique, we created a new culture system that preserved the tissue-specific ECM of fibrotic model livers from CCl4-treated rats. The content of ECM in fibrotic model liver scaffolds was increased and the ECM microstructure was distorted. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction and immunofluorescence assays of HCC cells cultured in fibrotic model liver scaffolds for 7 days showed an epithelial-mesenchymal transition phenotype. Moreover, the ECM of fibrotic model livers promoted proliferation and chemoresistance of HCC cells. These results showed a novel effect of natural ECM in fibrotic model livers on the malignant behaviour of HCC cells. This new culture system will be useful for both understanding the cell biology of fibrotic livers and developing novel anti-cancer drugs.