Background: Maintenance of complex transgenic colonies and labour-intensive techniques pose significant challenges in work involving mouse models for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Other animal models of unusual species are generally impractical for research purposes.
Aims: To develop a highly reproducible orthotopic mouse model for HCC based on the murine α-foetoprotein (AFP), producing cell line Hepa1-6 and to monitor liver tumour progression via in vivo imaging, and measurement of plasma AFP.
Methods: Intrahepatic tumour was induced following subcapsular implantation of 10+6 Hepa1-6 cells into C57L/J mice. AFP production was examined in vitro and in vivo using immunoblotting. Three confirmatory non-invasive imaging modalities were applied to follow tumour progression over time including ultrasound biomicroscopy (UBM), micromagnetic resonance imaging (microMRI), and bioluminescence.
Results: α-foetoprotein expression was confirmed both in vitro and in vivo, with increasing levels in the plasma as tumours progressed. UBM, microMRI and bioluminescence detected intrahepatic tumours to a 2 mm resolution by day 14. Sequential imaging studies demonstrated an intrahepatic pattern of disease progression with an observed median survival of 29 days. Immunosuppression of tumour-bearing mice led to a greater tumour size and decreased survival.
Conclusions: Intrahepatic implantation of Hepa1-6 as a mouse model for HCC is a highly reproducible in vivo system with tumour biology analogous to human disease and is regulated by the presence of an intact host immune system. Tumour progression may be monitored in vivo by UBM, microMRI and bioluminescence. Plasma AFP increases over time, allowing redundancy in non-invasive means of following tumour progression.