Human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) can invade the portal vein and metastasizes to other parts of the liver even at a relatively early stage of the disease, with less tumor spread occurring outside the liver. This intrahepatic metastasis is the main cause of liver failure and death in HCC patients. To analyze the mechanisms of intrahepatic metastasis we have constructed metastatic models using orthotopic implantation of human HCC cell lines. Five HCC cell lines formed liver tumors after injection into the livers of SCID mice, and of those 5 cell lines, Li7 and KYN-2 cells also resulted in vascular tumor thrombi and intrahepatic metastasis. These 2 cell lines had markedly higher cell motilities than the other 3 cell lines in vitro. Their motilities appeared to be Rho-mediated; serum and lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) evoked actin reorganization and motility of Li7 cells, and C3 exoenzyme exposure reduced the motility of both serum- stimulated Li7 cells and KYN-2 cells. Dominant negative and active forms of p160 Rho-associated coiled-coil forming protein kinase (p160ROCK), one of the downstream effectors of Rho, were separately and stably introduced into Li7 cells. Dominant active p160ROCK transfectants showed increased motility that was independent of serum and LPA, and dominant negative p160ROCK transfectants showed reduced motility under stimulation. Furthermore, implantation of dominant negative p160ROCK transfectants resulted in a reduced metastatic rate in vivo compared with the parent cells or a control transfectant. These findings indicate that cell motility mediated by the Rho/p160ROCK signaling pathway plays a critical role in intrahepatic metastasis of human HCC.
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