The activin-follistatin system is a potent growth regulatory system of liver tissue homeostasis. Activin A inhibits hepatocellular DNA synthesis and induces cell death. Follistatin binds activin and sequesters it from the signaling pathway. Consistently, follistatin has been reported to act as an inducer of DNA synthesis in the liver. Using RNase protection analysis, we studied the expression of follistatin in rat and mouse liver tumors as a possible mechanism to overcome activin growth control. Approximately 40% of the tumors (nine of 24 each), most of them hepatocellular carcinomas, displayed increased levels of follistatin mRNA when compared to tumor-surrounding liver tissue. The degree of overexpression was highly variable but independent of the carcinogen treatment that animals had received. It was also independent from the histological stage of malignancy and further found in rat liver adenomas. Follistatin expression was also observed in cell lines derived from human hepatocellular carcinomas. Overexpression of follistatin may represent a unique strategy of hepatic tumors to overcome the inhibitory action of a growth factor, activin, by decreasing its local bioavailability.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.