Expression of functional CD40 in human hepatocellular carcinoma



CD40, a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) family, plays a crucial role in the survival, proliferation, and differentiation in B cells. However, the expression of CD40 other than in B cells has not been well studied. Therefore, we investigated the expression and function of CD40 in hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). Expression of CD40 mRNA in 6 established HCC cell lines was analyzed by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and CD40 expression on cell surface was examined by flow cytometrical analysis. We also examined the expression of CD40 in human HCC tissues (45 cases) and nontumor liver tissues (30 cases) by immunohistochemistry. To examine the function of CD40 in HCC cells, we investigated the effect of CD40 signaling on anti-Fas antibody and TNF-α–induced apoptosis in HepG2 cells. In addition, intracellular levels of cysteine protease P32 (CPP32) protein in HepG2 cells were also determined by Western blotting. We have shown that 6 HCC cell lines constitutively expressed CD40 mRNA and membrane-bound CD40 antigen, which was slightly up-regulated by interferon gamma (IFN-γ). In addition, 60% of human HCC tissues demonstrated positive staining for CD40, whereas nontumor tissues showed little detectable staining. In HepG2 cells, CD40 stimulation does not affect cell viability, but significantly inhibited Fas and TNFR-mediated apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner by blocking the activation of CPP32. From these results, we conclude that CD40 expression in HCCs plays an important role in tumor biology, especially the resistance against Fas and TNFR-mediated apoptosis.