Glypican-3: a marker and a therapeutic target in hepatocellular carcinoma

FEBS J. 2013 May;280(10):2471-6. doi: 10.1111/febs.12126. Epub 2013 Jan 31.


Glypican-3 (GPC3) is a member of the glypican family. Glypicans are proteoglycans that are attached to the cell surface by a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol anchor. They regulate the signaling activity of several growth factors, including Wnts. This regulation is based on the ability of glypicans to stimulate or inhibit the interaction of these growth factors with their respective signaling receptors. It has been clearly established that whereas GPC3 is expressed by most hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs), this glypican is not detected in normal and cirrhotic liver, or in benign hepatic lesions. Consequently, immunostaining of liver biopsies for GPC3 is currently being used by clinical pathologists to confirm HCC diagnosis when the malignant nature of the lesion is difficult to establish. In addition to being a marker of HCC, GPC3 plays a role in the progression of the disease. GPC3 promotes the growth of HCC by stimulating canonical Wnt signaling. It has been proposed that this stimulation is based on the ability of GPC3 to increase the binding of Wnt to its signaling receptor, Frizzled. Two therapeutic approaches for HCC that target GPC3 are currently being tested in phase II clinical trials. One of them is based on the use of a humanized GPC3 monoclonal antibody that inhibits the in vivo growth of HCC xenografts by inducing antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. The second approach employs a vaccine that consists of two GPC3-derived peptides that induce cytotoxic T lymphocytes against these peptides. Targeting of GPC3 might offer a new tool for the treatment of HCC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Progression
  • Frizzled Receptors / metabolism
  • Glypicans / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / metabolism
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Frizzled Receptors
  • GPC3 protein, human
  • Glypicans
  • Multiprotein Complexes