Background & aims: Cadherins and their associated molecules, such as alpha-catenin, have been shown recently to play a pivotal role in epithelial carcinogenesis.
Methods: The expression of E-cadherin, N-cadherin, and alpha-catenin in 10 normal samples, 28 focal nodular hyperplasias, 9 liver cell adenomas, 65 hepatocellular carcinomas, and 9 cholangiocarcinomas was studied by immunohistochemistry and Western blotting.
Results: In the normal liver, hepatocytes expressed E-cadherin and a 129-kilodalton cadherin identified by the anti-N-cadherin antibody GC4. The expression level of alpha-catenin was low. Bile duct cells expressed only E-cadherin and showed high levels of alpha-catenin. The expression of cadherins and alpha-catenin was preserved in focal nodular hyperplasia. In liver cell adenomas, cadherins and alpha-catenin were heterogeneously expressed. In hepatocellular carcinomas, cadherin and alpha-catenin expression was frequently reduced or absent. Alterations in cadherin expression correlated with large tumor size, low grade of histological differentiation, and occurrence of capsular and vascular invasion. In cholangiocarcinomas, neoplastic cells inconstantly expressed E-cadherin and alpha-catenin.
Conclusions: Alterations of cadherin and alpha-catenin expression are frequent in liver cell adenomas and primary liver carcinomas. Their incidence in hepatocellular carcinomas is of prognostic significance.