An oncogenic role of Agrin in regulating focal adhesion integrity in hepatocellular carcinoma

Nat Commun. 2015 Jan 29;6:6184. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7184.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths globally. The identity and role of cell surface molecules driving complex biological events leading to HCC progression are poorly understood, hence representing major lacunae in HCC therapies. Here, combining SILAC quantitative proteomics and biochemical approaches, we uncover a critical oncogenic role of Agrin, which is overexpressed and secreted in HCC. Agrin enhances cellular proliferation, migration and oncogenic signalling. Mechanistically, Agrin's extracellular matrix sensor activity provides oncogenic cues to regulate Arp2/3-dependent ruffling, invadopodia formation and epithelial-mesenchymal transition through sustained focal adhesion integrity that drives liver tumorigenesis. Furthermore, Agrin signalling through Lrp4-muscle-specific tyrosine kinase (MuSK) forms a critical oncogenic axis. Importantly, antibodies targeting Agrin reduced oncogenic signalling and tumour growth in vivo. Together, we demonstrate that Agrin is frequently upregulated and important for oncogenic property of HCC, and is an attractive target for antibody therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agrin / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Blocking / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Carcinogenesis / drug effects
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Endocytosis / drug effects
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / drug effects
  • Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Focal Adhesions / drug effects
  • Focal Adhesions / metabolism*
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Integrins / metabolism
  • Isotope Labeling
  • LDL-Receptor Related Proteins / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Membrane Microdomains / drug effects
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Oncogenes*
  • Pseudopodia / metabolism
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism
  • Tumor Stem Cell Assay
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Agrin
  • Antibodies, Blocking
  • Integrins
  • LDL-Receptor Related Proteins
  • LRP4 protein, human
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • MUSK protein, human
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases