Transforming growth factor-beta signaling promotes hepatocarcinogenesis induced by p53 loss

Hepatology. 2012 Jan;55(1):121-31. doi: 10.1002/hep.24653. Epub 2011 Dec 6.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) results from the accumulation of deregulated tumor suppressor genes and/or oncogenes in hepatocytes. Inactivation of TP53 and inhibition of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) signaling are among the most common molecular events in human liver cancers. Thus, we assessed whether inactivation of TGF-β signaling, by deletion of the TGF-β receptor, type II (Tgfbr2), cooperates with Trp53 loss to drive HCC formation. Albumin-cre transgenic mice were crossed with floxed Trp53 and/or floxed Tgfbr2 mice to generate mice lacking p53 and/or Tgfbr2 in the liver. Deletion of Trp53 alone (Trp53(KO) ) resulted in liver tumors in approximately 41% of mice by 10 months of age, whereas inactivation of Tgfbr2 alone (Tgfbr2(KO) ) did not induce liver tumors. Surprisingly, deletion of Tgfbr2 in the setting of p53 loss (Trp53(KO) ;Tgfbr2(KO) ) decreased the frequency of mice with liver tumors to around 17% and delayed the age of tumor onset. Interestingly, Trp53(KO) and Trp53(KO) ;Tgfbr2(KO) mice develop both HCC and cholangiocarcinomas, suggesting that loss of p53, independent of TGF-β, may affect liver tumor formation through effects on a common liver stem cell population. Assessment of potential mechanisms through which TGF-β signaling may promote liver tumor formation in the setting of p53 loss revealed a subset of Trp53(KO) tumors that express increased levels of alpha-fetoprotein. Furthermore, tumors from Trp53(KO) mice express increased TGF-β1 levels compared with tumors from Trp53(KO) ;Tgfbr2(KO) mice. Increased phosphorylated Smad3 and ERK1/2 expression was also detected in the tumors from Trp53(KO) mice and correlated with increased expression of the TGF-β responsive genes, Pai1 and Ctgf.

Conclusion: TGF-β signaling paradoxically promotes the formation of liver tumors that arise in the setting of p53 inactivation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / genetics
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / pathology
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / genetics
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / physiology
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism*
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / genetics
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Phosphorylation / physiology
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type II
  • Receptors, Peptide / genetics
  • Receptors, Peptide / metabolism
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Smad3 Protein / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Peptide
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Smad3 Protein
  • Smad3 protein, mouse
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • alpha-fetoprotein receptor, mouse
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type II