Primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is the fifth most common cancer and the third leading cancer killer in the world. There is no effective therapeutic option for most HCC patients. A new therapeutic strategy is essential. Granulin-epithelin precursor (GEP, also called progranulin, acrogranin, or PC-derived growth factor) was identified as a potential therapeutic target for HCC from our earlier genome-wide expression profiles. We aimed to conduct a detailed investigation with in vitro and animal experiments. We developed the anti-GEP monoclonal antibody (mAb), and examined its effect on hepatoma cells and normal liver cells in vitro. A nude mice model transplanted with human HCC was used to investigate if anti-GEP mAb can inhibit tumor growth in vivo. We demonstrated that anti-GEP mAb inhibited the growth of hepatoma cells but revealed no significant effect on normal liver cells. In the nude mice model transplanted with human HCC, anti-GEP mAb decreased the serum GEP level and inhibited the growth of established tumors in a dose-dependent manner. The anti-GEP mAb reduced tumor cell proliferation via the p44/42 MAPK and Akt pathways, and reduced tumor angiogenesis to deprive the nutrient supply with reduced microvessel density and tumor vascular endothelial growth factor level.
Conclusion: We have shown that anti-GEP antibody can inhibit HCC growth, providing evidence that GEP is a therapeutic target for HCC treatment.