Agrin, a novel basement membrane component in human and rat liver, accumulates in cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma

Lab Invest. 2006 Nov;86(11):1149-60. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.3700475. Epub 2006 Sep 18.


Agrin is a multifunctional heparan sulfate proteoglycan originally discovered in the neuromuscular junctions and later observed in numerous other localizations. The presence of agrin in the liver, either healthy or diseased, has formerly not been reported. We detected agrin in minor amounts in the basement membranes of blood vessels and bile ducts in the healthy liver. The proliferation of bile ductules and the formation of new septal blood vessels in liver cirrhosis, as well as neoangiogenesis in the hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) result in a dramatic increase in the quantity of agrin. Vascular and peribiliary basement membranes were strongly immunopositive for agrin in 29/29 human liver specimens with cirrhosis and HCC. However, sinusoidal walls of regenerative nodules in the cirrhotic liver consistently remained negative. Given the selectivity of agrin for tumor microvessels, agrin immunohistochemistry may prove helpful in recognizing malignant transformation in cirrhotic livers. Similar immunohistochemical observations were made on the liver of rats exposed to a combined cirrhosis/HCC induction treatment. In both human and rats, agrin probably originates from activated myofibroblasts, vascular smooth muscle cells and biliary epithelial cells. Increased agrin expression in human specimens, in the liver of 4/4 treated rats, as well as in isolated rat liver mesenchymal cells was verified by quantitative RT-PCR. Considering that agrin binds various growth factors, and it directly interacts with cell membrane receptors such as alphav-integrins, we hypothesize a stimulatory role for agrin in neoangiogenic processes such as tumor vascularization, and a supportive role in bile ductule proliferation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agrin / analysis
  • Agrin / genetics
  • Agrin / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Basement Membrane / chemistry
  • Basement Membrane / metabolism
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / metabolism
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / blood supply
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Kupffer Cells / metabolism
  • Kupffer Cells / pathology
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Microcirculation / metabolism
  • Microcirculation / pathology
  • Muscle Cells / metabolism
  • Muscle Cells / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Agrin
  • RNA, Messenger