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Enhanced production of CTGF and IL-11 from highly metastatic hepatoma cells under hypoxic conditions: an implication of hepatocellular carcinoma metastasis to bone

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The biology underlying bone-specific metastasis (BM) of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is poorly understood. The goal of the present study is to further elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying HCC with BM.


The expression of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and interleukin-11 (IL-11) in RNA extracted from 127 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded HCC specimens was examined by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. A cellular hypoxic model was established in vitro to investigate CTGF and osteoprotegerin (OPG) expression and roles in hypoxia-induced tumor aggressiveness.


The mean CTGF expression in BM versus non-metastatic samples was 3.63-times higher, and IL-11 expression was detected in 62.5 % (10/16) of BM samples versus only in 18.9 % (21/111) of the non-metastatic ones. Highly metastatic HCC cell lines tended to show strong expression of CTGF and IL-11, but low expression of OPG. Hypoxic stimulation of HCC 97L cells increased the level of CTGF mRNA by 2.80-fold within 1.5 h, and hypoxia-inducible factor-1α mRNA levels in these cells could be increased by stimulation with recombinant CTGF protein. Furthermore, OPG and matrix metalloproteinase-2 and -9 levels were also induced under hypoxic conditions.


Expression levels of intratumoral CTGF or IL-11 were independent prognostic factors for the development of BM in HCC patients. Tumor hypoxia enhanced the expression of CTGF, which initiates the invasive angiogenesis cascade and enhances expression of many hypoxia-associated genes. Cellular release of OPG may play a role in tumor cell survival. The hypoxia-induced cascade in HCC cells may contribute to invasion and metastasis in vivo.

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We thank Jie-Yi Shi and Xiao-Dong Zhu (Liver Cancer Institute, Zhongshan Hospital) for their expert technical assistance. This study was sponsored by the National Nature Science Foundation of China (grant no. 30973500).

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The authors declare that no conflict of interest exists.

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Correspondence to Zhao-Chong Zeng.

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Gao, Y., Xiang, Z., Zhou, L. et al. Enhanced production of CTGF and IL-11 from highly metastatic hepatoma cells under hypoxic conditions: an implication of hepatocellular carcinoma metastasis to bone. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol 139, 669–679 (2013).

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  • CTGF
  • IL-11
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Bone metastasis
  • HIF-1α
  • Osteoprotegerin