Classification of hepatocellular carcinoma according to hepatocellular and biliary differentiation markers. Clinical and biological implications

Am J Pathol. 1996 Oct;149(4):1167-75.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a heterogeneous disease. HCC derived from different stages of cellular differentiation may have different clinical and pathobiological behavior. To test the hypothesis that HCC can be classified into two types based on its phenotypic markers (hepatocellular and biliary differentiation), liver tissues from 290 Chinese patients with HCC were studied. Expression of hepatocytic differentiation marker (HEP-PAR-reactive antigen), biliary differentiation markers (AE1-AE3, cytokeratin-19), proliferation markers (Ki-67, proliferating cell nuclear antigen), alpha-fetoprotein, p53, and transforming growth factor-alpha in the tumor tissue were assessed by immunohistochemistry. Hepatocytic differentiation marker was detected in 99.7% and biliary differentiation markers were detected in 29.3% of these tumors. Clinically, no patient with HCC with biliary markers survived for more than 27 weeks compared with a 22.6% survival rate in patients with HCC negative for biliary markers. HCCs positive for the biliary differentiation markers showed features of more aggressive disease in terms of poorer cellular differentiation (P < 0.001) and high-level expression of proliferation markers (Ki-67, P < 0.001; proliferating cell nuclear antigen, P = 0.0114) compared with HCCs without biliary markers. HCCs with biliary markers also had a higher level of expression of alpha-fetoprotein (P < 0.001) and p53 (P = 0.0077). Classification of HCCs based on its phenotypic (differentiation) markers has both clinical and pathobiological implications.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, Differentiation / analysis*
  • Bile Ducts / immunology*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / classification*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Division
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Keratins / analysis
  • Ki-67 Antigen / analysis
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / classification*
  • Liver Neoplasms / immunology
  • Liver Neoplasms / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen / analysis
  • Survival Rate


  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen
  • Keratins