Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of murine liver tumor cells promotes invasion

Hepatology. 2010 Sep;52(3):945-53. doi: 10.1002/hep.23748.


Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is predicted to play a critical role in metastatic disease in hepatocellular carcinoma. In this study, we used a novel murine model of EMT to elucidate a mechanism of tumor progression and metastasis. A total of 2 x 10(6) liver cells isolated from Pten(loxp/loxp)/Alb-Cre(+) mice, expanded from a single CD133(+)CD45(-) cell clone, passage 0 (P0), were sequentially transplanted to obtain two passages of tumor cells, P1 and P2. Cells were analyzed for gene expression using microarray and real-time polymerase chain reaction. Functional analysis included cell proliferation, migration, and invasion in vitro and orthotopic tumor metastasis assays in vivo. Although P0, P1, and P2 each formed tumors consistent with mixed liver epithelium, within the P2 cells, two distinct cell types were clearly visible: cells with epithelial morphology similar to P0 cells and cells with fibroblastoid morphology. These P2 mesenchymal cells demonstrated increased locomotion on wound healing; increased cell invasion on Matrigel basement membrane; increased EMT-associated gene expression of Snail1, Zeb1, and Zeb2; and down-regulated E-cadherin. P2 mesenchymal cells demonstrated significantly faster tumor growth in vivo compared with P2 epithelial counterparts, with invasion of intestine, pancreas, spleen, and lymph nodes. Furthermore, P2 mesenchymal cells secreted high levels of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), which we propose acts in a paracrine fashion to drive epithelial cells to undergo EMT. In addition, a second murine liver cancer stem cell line with methionine adenosyltransferase 1a deficiency acquired EMT after sequential transplantations, indicating that EMT was not restricted to Pten-deleted tumors.

Conclusion: EMT is associated with a high rate of liver tumor proliferation, invasion, and metastasis in vivo, which is driven by HGF secreted from mesenchymal tumor cells in a feed-forward mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AC133 Antigen
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology*
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Mesoderm / metabolism
  • Mesoderm / pathology*
  • Methionine Adenosyltransferase / genetics
  • Methionine Adenosyltransferase / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / genetics
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • AC133 Antigen
  • Antigens, CD
  • Glycoproteins
  • Peptides
  • Prom1 protein, mouse
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor
  • Mat1a protein, mouse
  • Methionine Adenosyltransferase
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • Pten protein, mouse