The opioid growth factor-opioid growth factor receptor axis regulates cell proliferation of human hepatocellular cancer

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010 Feb;298(2):R459-66. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00646.2009. Epub 2009 Nov 18.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with a mortality rate approximating its incidence. Understanding the biology of these tumors, as well as treatment modalities, has been challenging. The opioid growth factor (OGF; [Met(5)]-enkephalin) and the OGF receptor (OGFr) form an endogenous growth-regulating pathway in homeostasis and neoplasia. In this investigation, we examined the relationship of the OGF-OGFr axis in HCC and define its presence, function, and mechanism. Using SK-HEP-1, Hep G2, and Hep 3B human HCC cell lines, we found that OGF and OGFr were present and functional. Exogenous OGF was observed to have a dose-dependent, reversible, and receptor-mediated inhibitory action on cell proliferation. Endogenous OGF was found to be constitutively produced and tonically active on cell replicative activities, with neutralization of this peptide accelerating cell proliferation. Silencing of OGFr using siRNA stimulated cell replication, even when exogenous OGF was added to the cultures, documenting its importance in mediating OGF activity. The mechanism of OGF-OGFr action on cell number was related to inhibition of DNA synthesis and not to apoptotic or necrotic pathways. Both OGF and OGFr were detected in surgical specimens of HCC, and no quantitative differences were recorded in peptide or receptor between pathological and normal specimens. These data are the first to report that the OGF-OGFr system is a native biological regulator of cell proliferation in HCC. The findings may provide important insight in designing treatment strategies for this deadly disease.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA, Neoplasm / biosynthesis
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis
  • Opioid Peptides / pharmacology
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Opioid / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid / physiology*


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Opioid Peptides
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • methionine-enkephalin receptor