Background/aims: The transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) induces apoptosis in hepatocytes through an oxidative stress process. Here, we have analyzed the role of different NADPH oxidase isoforms in the intracellular signalling induced by TGF-beta in hepatocytes, to later explore whether this mechanism is altered in liver tumor cells.
Methods: Primary cultures of rat and human hepatocytes, HepG2 and Hep3B cells were used in in vitro studies to analyze the TGF-beta response.
Results: TGF-beta-induced apoptosis in rat hepatocytes does not require Rac-dependent NADPH oxidases. TGF-beta upregulates the Rac-independent Nox4, which correlates with its pro-apoptotic activity. Regulation of Nox4 occurs at the transcriptional level and is counteracted by intracellular survival signals. siRNA targeted knock-down of Nox4 attenuates NADPH oxidase activity, caspase activation and cell death in rat hepatocytes. NOX4 upregulation by TGF-beta is also observed in human hepatocytes, coincident with apoptosis. In human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines, NOX4 upregulation by TGF-beta is only observed in cells that are sensitive to its cytotoxic effect, such as Hep3B cells. siRNA targeted knock-down of NOX4 in these cells impairs TGF-beta-induced apoptosis.
Conclusions: Upregulation of NOX4 by TGF-beta is required for its pro-apoptotic activity in hepatocytes. Impairment of this TGF-beta-induced response might confer apoptosis resistance in HCC cells.