Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) growth severely affects prognosis. Ki-67, a known marker of cell proliferation, is a negative prognostic factor in HCC. Growth factors such as the epidermal growth factor (EGF) induce HCC cell proliferation but do not explain the great heterogeneity of HCC growth. Laminin-5 (Ln-5) is an extracellular matrix protein (ECM) present in the tissue microenvironment of HCC. The two main receptors for Ln-5, integrins α3β1 and α6β4, are expressed on the cell surface of HCC cells. The aim of this study is to investigate an alternative mechanism of HCC growth whereby Ln-5 promotes HCC cell proliferation through α3β1 and α6β4. HCC tissues containing Ln-5 display a larger diameter and higher number of positive cells for Ki-67, a well known proliferative index, as determined by double immunofluorescence staining and real-time PCR on microdissected tissues. In vitro, Ln-5, but not collagen I, collagen IV or fibronectin, induces proliferation as much as EGF does, via Erk phosphorylation as a consequence of β4 integrin phosphorylation. However, the two HCC cell lines do not proliferate in presence of Ln-5 despite β4 integrin and Erk1/2 activation. After transfection with α3 integrin, in the presence of Ln-5 one of these HCC cell lines acquires a proliferative activity whereas one of the proliferative HCC cell lines, knocked-down for α3 integrin, loses its proliferative activity. Conclusions: Our study suggests a new mechanism of HCC growth whereby Ln-5 stimulates proliferation via a different function of α6β4 and α3β1.
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