Background: Although clinical applications of intraoperative fluorescence imaging of liver cancer using indocyanine green (ICG) have begun, the mechanistic background of ICG accumulation in the cancerous tissues remains unclear.
Methods: In 170 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma cells (HCC), the liver surfaces and resected specimens were intraoperatively examined by using a near-infrared fluorescence imaging system after preoperative administration of ICG (0.5 mg/kg i.v.). Microscopic examinations, gene expression profile analysis, and immunohistochemical staining were performed for HCCs, which showed ICG fluorescence in the cancerous tissues (cancerous-type fluorescence), and HCCs showed fluorescence only in the surrounding non-cancerous liver parenchyma (rim-type fluorescence).
Results: ICG fluorescence imaging enabled identification of 273 of 276 (99%) HCCs in the resected specimens. HCCs showed that cancerous-type fluorescence was associated with higher cancer cell differentiation as compared with rim-type HCCs (P < 0.001). Fluorescence microscopy identified the presence of ICG in the canalicular side of the cancer cell cytoplasm, and pseudoglands of the HCCs showed a cancerous-type fluorescence pattern. The ratio of the gene and protein expression levels in the cancerous to non-cancerous tissues for Na(+)/taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide (NTCP) and organic anion-transporting polypeptide 8 (OATP8), which are associated with portal uptake of ICG by hepatocytes that tended to be higher in the HCCs that showed cancerous-type fluorescence than in those that showed rim-type fluorescence.
Conclusions: Preserved portal uptake of ICG in differentiated HCC cells by NTCP and OATP8 with concomitant biliary excretion disorders causes accumulation of ICG in the cancerous tissues after preoperative intravenous administration. This enables highly sensitive identification of HCC by intraoperative ICG fluorescence imaging.