Background: Atorvastatin is a potent inhibitor of the mevalonate pathway and widely used as a hypolipidemic drug. Some epidemiological studies and animal experiments indicate that the long-term use of atorvastatin and structurally related drugs might be associated with a reduced risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common hepatocellular malignancy in humans. However, the potential of atorvastatin to inhibit HCC formation is controversially discussed.
Methods: Hepatocellular tumors were chemically induced by treatment of C3H/He mice with 10 μg/g body weight N-nitrosodiethylamine and the ability of atorvastatin to interfere with tumor formation was investigated by treatment of mice with 0.1% atorvastatin in the diet for 6 months. Tumor size and tumor multiplicity were analyzed, as were tissue levels of cholesterol and atorvastatin.
Results: Atorvastatin treatment efficiently reduced serum cholesterol levels. However, the growth of tumors driven by activated MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) signaling was not attenuated by the presence of the drug, as evidenced by a lack of reduction of tumor volume or tumor multiplicity by atorvastatin. Levels of the atorvastatin uptake transporters Oatp1a4 and Oatp1b2 were down-regulated at the mRNA and protein levels in chemically induced mouse liver tumors, but without striking effects on atorvastatin concentrations in the tumor tissue.
Conclusion: In summary, the present data provide substantial evidence that atorvastatin does not beneficially influence tumor growth in mouse liver and thereby challenge the hypothesis that statin use might protect against hepatocellular cancer.