The tumor microenvironment in hepatocellular carcinoma (review)

Int J Oncol. 2012 Jun;40(6):1733-47. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2012.1408. Epub 2012 Mar 22.


The tumor microenvironment has been largely studied as a dynamic system orchestrated by inflammatory cells, including cancer cells, stroma as well as the extracellular matrix. It is useful to describe and predict the phenotypic characteristics of cancer. Furthermore, a better understanding of its interplay with the various aspects of the tumor cells may be utilized for the discovery of novel molecular targets. Liver cancer is considered a model of the relation occurring between the tumor micro-environment and tumor development. The chronic inflammatory status of the liver, sustained by the infection of hepatitis viruses, as well as the production of cytokines and growth factors within the parenchyma, lead to an intricate microenvironment. The identification of novel molecular therapeutic targets may improve the outcome of patients with liver cancer as it remains the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. In the present study, the tumor microenvironment in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was explored by a review of the literature. Studies on hepatitis virus infections and the consequent chronic inflammatory status were examined. In this context, immune-mediated and/or virus-related molecular mechanisms have been hypothesized as being responsible for liver cancer development. The interlink among HCC microenvironment components, comprising cellular elements, cytokines, growth factors and several proteins is also described together with the role of matrix metalloproteinases in HCC development. Finally, the rationale for targeting tumor-stromal interface is summarized in the context of new therapeutic opportunities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avian Proteins / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / virology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Hepatitis, Viral, Human / complications
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / virology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment*


  • Avian Proteins
  • Cytokines
  • EMF-1 protein, Gallus gallus