Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is known to receive its blood supply principally from the hepatic arteries. Recent studies have reported differences in the vascular supply, especially arterial supply among low- and high-grade dysplastic nodules (DNs) (also referred to as adenomatous hyperplasia and macroregenerative nodules) and HCCs. Increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has been reported in HCC. In addition, VEGF may play an important role in the early phases of hepatocarcinogenesis.
Methods: We immunohistochemically stained 7 low-grade DNs, 8 high-grade DNs, 11 early HCCs, 17 small HCCs, and 21 advanced HCCs with antibodies against VEGF, alpha-smooth muscle actin (to identify unpaired arteries, ie, arteries not accompanied by bile ducts, indicative of angiogenesis), CD34 (as a marker of sinusoidal capillarization), and proliferation cell nuclear antigen.
Results: Expression of VEGF was found in the hepatocytes and HCC cells. The degree of VEGF expression increased gradually according to the stepwise development of hepatocarcinogenesis. It was higher in high-grade DNs and early HCCs than in low-grade DNs. The hepatocytes and HCC cells adjacent to peliosis and fibrous septa showed stronger VEGF expression. Angiogenesis, unpaired arteries, and sinusoidal capillarization developed from low-grade DNs and gradually increased. It was highest in HCCs. The proliferation cell nuclear antigen labeling indexes of hepatocytes and HCC cells also increased gradually as hepatocarcinogenesis progressed. Small HCCs showed a higher status of neoangiogenesis and cell proliferation activity than advanced HCCs. The degree of VEGF expression was correlated with angiogenesis and cell proliferation activity.
Conclusion: We conclude that VEGF plays a significant role in angiogenesis, growth, and development of HCC.