Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a well-known cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), but the regulators effectively driving virus production and HCC progression remain unclear. By using genetically engineered mouse models, we show that overexpression of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) accelerated HCC progression, supporting the genomic analysis that an up-regulated HGF signature is associated with poor prognosis in HBV-positive HCC patients. We show that for both liver regeneration and spontaneous HCC development there is an inclusive requirement for MET expression, and when HGF induces autocrine activation the tumor displays sensitivity to a small-molecule Met inhibitor. Our results demonstrate that HGF is a driver of HBV-induced HCC progression and may serve as an effective biomarker for Met-targeted therapy. MET inhibitors are entering clinical trials against cancer, and our data provide a molecular basis for targeting the Met pathway in hepatitis B-induced HCC.
Keywords: MET; hepatitis B; hepatocellular carcinoma; hepatocyte growth factor; targeted therapy.