Transforming growth factor betas and their receptors in human liver cirrhosis

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998 Dec;10(12):1031-9. doi: 10.1097/00042737-199812000-00009.


Background: Transforming growth factor betas (TGF-betas) are a group of homologous polypeptides that exert pleiotropic effects on various cell types and stimulate the formation of extracellular matrix and fibrosis. To evaluate whether TGF-beta isoforms (TGF-beta1, TGF-beta2 and TGF-beta3) and their receptors (types I-III) are also of importance in the pathophysiology of liver cirrhosis, we analysed their concomitant expression and localization in human liver cirrhosis.

Patients: Cirrhotic liver tissue samples were obtained from 17 patients (four women, 13 men) with a median age of 41 years (range 22-67). Normal liver tissues from ten patients (seven women, three men) with a median age of 55 years (range 45-75) served as controls.

Methods: The tissues were fixed in Bouin's solution and paraffin-embedded for histological analysis. For RNA analysis, freshly obtained tissue samples were snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored at -80 degrees C until analysed. Northern blot analysis was used to examine the expression of TGF-beta1, beta2 and beta3 and their receptors, type I (TbetaR-I), type II (TbetaR-II) and type III (TbetaR-III). Immunohistochemistry was performed to determine the localization of the corresponding proteins in the normal and the cirrhotic liver.

Results: Northern blot analysis revealed enhanced expression (P < 0.05) of TGF-beta1 (twofold increase), TGF-beta2 (threefold increase) and TGF-beta3 (8.5-fold increase) and of TbetaR-II (threefold increase) mRNA in liver cirrhosis in comparison with normal controls. In contrast, TbetaR-I (ALK-5) and TbetaR-III mRNA expression showed no significant changes. No TGF-beta isoform immunoreactivity was present in hepatocytes in either normal livers or in liver cirrhosis. However, in liver cirrhosis, intense TGF-beta1 immunoreactivity was present in bile duct and ductular epithelial cells (including ductular proliferations) and in inflammatory cells. In a few sinusoidal lining cells, faint TGF-beta1 and moderate TGF-beta2 immunoreactivity was present. TGF-beta3 immunostaining was present in bile duct and ductular epithelial cells, in inflammatory cells and in fibroblast-like spindle cells in liver cirrhosis. For TbetaR-I and TbetaR-II, the immunoreactivity was localized in hepatocytes and biliary cells in normal and cirrhotic liver tissues, with higher intensity for TbetaR-II in the cirrhotic liver.

Conclusion: Enhanced expression of all three TGF-bea isoforms and of TbetaR-II in liver cirrhosis suggests their involvement in this fibrotic disorder. The higher immunoreactivity of the three TGF-beta isoforms in the bile duct epithelial cells in cirrhotic tissues suggests a possible role of these cells in the pathogenesis of liver cirrhosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bile Ducts / chemistry
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Epithelium / chemistry
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Liver / chemistry*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / analysis*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / analysis*


  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta