Pathogenesis of HCV-associated HCC: Dual-pass carcinogenesis through activation of oxidative stress and intracellular signaling


Professor Kazuhiko Koike, Department of Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8655, Japan. Email:


Overwhelming lines of epidemiological evidence have indicated that persistent infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major risk toward development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). It remains controversial, however, in the pathogenesis of HCC associated with HCV, whether the virus plays a direct role or merely an indirect one. The studies using transgenic mouse models by us and others, in which the core protein of HCV has oncogenic potential, indicate that HCV is directly involved in hepatocarcinogenesis, albeit other factors such as continued cell death and regeneration associated with inflammation would play a role, as well. The downstream events of the core protein are segregated into two components. One is the augmented production of oxidative stress along with the activation of scavenging system including catalase and glutathion (GSH) in the putative preneoplastic stage with steatosis in the liver. Thus, oxidative stress production in the absence of inflammation by the core protein would partly contribute to the development of HCC. The generation of oxidative stress is estimated to originate from mitochondrial dysfunction in hepatocytes by HCV infection. The other is the alteration of intracellular signaling cascade of MAPK (JNK),AP-1, cyclin D1, and CDK4. The combination of these pathways, collective with HCV-associated alterations in lipid and glucose metabolism, would lead to the frequent development of HCC in persistent HCV infection. Our results suggest that there would be a mechanism for hepatocarcinogenesis in persistent HCV infection that is distinct from those for other cancers. Similar to the pathogenesis of other cancers, the accumulation of a set of genetic aberrations may also be necessary for multistage development of HCC. However, HCV core protein, to which an oncogenic potential is ascribed, may allow some of the multiple steps to be bypassed in hepatocarcinogenesis. Therefore, unlike other cancers, HCV infection can elicit HCC in the absence of a complete set of genetic aberrations. Such a scenario, “non-Vogelstein-type” carcinogenesis, would explain the unusually high incidence and multicentric nature of HCC development in HCV infection.