Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) commonly develops in patients with underlying chronic liver disease. Additionally, the tumorous lesions of HCC patients are consistently characterized by the lack of iron accumulation even when arising in iron-loaded liver. However, the molecular mechanism leading to this observed phenomenon is currently poorly understood. In this study, all tumorous tissues from 24 HCC patients with chronic HBV infection were stained negative for iron when histologically assessed by Perls’ Prussian blue stain, whereas excess iron deposits were present in 17 of the 24 adjacent non-tumorous liver tissues. To elucidate the concerted regulation of iron homeostasis in these patients, we studied the gene expression profiling of 42 relevant iron-regulatory genes in the tumorous and adjacent non-tumorous liver tissues of these HCC patients along with 10 normal liver controls. Expression for most of the iron-regulatory genes, including hepcidin, transferrin receptor 2 (TfR2), transferrin (Tf), ceruloplasmin (Cp) and iron regulatory protein 1 (IRP1), were significantly down-regulated in the tumorous tissues of these patients compared to the adjacent non-tumorous liver tissues and normal liver controls. On the other hand, expression of hepcidin, TfR2, ferroportin 1 and DMT1 were significantly up-regulated in iron-loaded non-cirrhotic non-tumorous liver tissues as compared with normal liver controls. Hence, the reduction of hepcidin expression within the iron-depleted tumorous lesions likely reflects the physiological consequence of the obligate demand for iron in the rapidly growing neoplastic cells, whereas the up-regulation of hepcidin expression in the iron-loaded adjacent non-tumorous liver tissues is likely a physiological response.
Tan, M. G. K., Kumarasinghe, P., Wang, S. M., Ooi, L. L. P. J., Aw, S. E., & Hui, K. M. (2009). Modulation of iron-regulatory genes in human hepatocellular carcinoma and its physiological consequences. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 234(6), 693-702. https://doi.org/10.3181/0807-RM-227