Hypoxia-induced des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin production in hepatocellular carcinoma

Int J Oncol. 2010 Jan;36(1):161-70.


Des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin (DCP) is an established HCC tumor marker, but the precise mechanism of its production is still unclear. Recently, we demonstrated that cytoskeletal changes during epithelial-to-fibroblastoid conversion (EFC) or epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) induced by chemicals plays a critical mechanistic role in DCP production via impairment in vitamin K uptake. Our proposed mechanism of DCP production is consistent with substantial clinical evidence. Supplementary vitamin K2 analogues reduced serum DCP levels in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. HCC patients with high serum DCP are associated with vascular invasion, metastasis and tumor recurrence. On the other hand, hypoxia has been reported to induce EMT or cytoskeletal changes. Therefore, we examined whether hypoxia induced DCP production during EFC or EMT in HCC cells. Indeed, hypoxic stimulation induced hepatoma cell lines (HepG2 or PLC/PRF/5 cells) to undergo EFC or EMT and these cells produced DCP. Immunofluorescence study demonstrated that hypoxic stimulation impaired labeled low-density lipoprotein uptake, which was a surrogate for vitamin K uptake. In addition, fine filamentous actin network, which has crucial role for clathrin-mediated endocytosis of vitamin K, was disrupted in DCP producing cells by hypoxic stimulation. Thus, hypoxic stimulation induced HCC cells to produce DCP in the same mechanism as chemicals. Furthermore, immunohistochemical study using surgically resected HCC samples showed that a positive staining of nuclear hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha was more frequently observed in HCC cells with stronger staining intensity of DCP. Importantly, clinical observations that DCP as an HCC tumor marker was more useful in larger tumors, which is likely to be exposed with hypoxia during tumor development, support our results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia*
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Protein Precursors / biosynthesis*
  • Prothrombin / biosynthesis*


  • Actins
  • Biomarkers
  • Cadherins
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Protein Precursors
  • acarboxyprothrombin
  • Prothrombin