Background and Aim: Persistent infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major etiological risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The host cellular components involved in the progression of the carcinoma are still unclear. In the present study we aimed to evaluate Ras mediated signaling in hepatocellular carcinoma with persistent HBV infection.
Methods: To gain insight into the role of Ras mediated signaling in HBV mediated carcinogenesis we evaluated Ras functionality by mutation analysis, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry (IHC), Ras-guanosine triphosphate bound functionality assay and Ras-mediated downstream signaling in a cohort of primary HCC tissues positive for HBV-DNA.
Results: Mutation in codon 12 of K-ras appeared to be an uncommon event in the pathogenesis of HCC. We found unusually low levels of Ras expression in HCC compared with those with normal liver and chronic liver disease (cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis). Considerable heterogeneity was found with respect to Ras-mediated signaling events (pRaf, pMAPK and pAKT). The hepatoma cell line (Hep3B) with integrated HBV showed upregulation in expression and activation of Ras and its downstream signaling in comparison to HBV a negative cell line (HepG2). The contrasting result between the cell lines and primary tumors is worthy of note.
Conclusions: The unusual finding on downregulation of Ras expression in primary HCC tumors in the present study together with tumor heterogeneity with respect to Ras-mediated signaling events prompts a new role of the wild type K-Ras as a possible growth suppressor and a stochastic model for progression of hepatic cancer.