Expression of Cyclooxygenase-2 and Transforming Growth Factor-beta1 in HCV-Induced Chronic Liver Disease and Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Azza E.I. El-Bassiouny, MD; Mona M.K. Zoheiry, MD; Mona M.F. Nosseir, MD; Eman G. El-Ahwany, MD; Raafat A. Ibrahim, MD; Nora E.I. El-Bassiouni, MD

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Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) were modulated in a variety of viral infections, but there is a paucity of data about their role in the pathologic process of cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) following chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The material of the current study included 50 cases of chronic hepatitis C (CHC) without cirrhosis, 30 cases of CHC with cirrhosis, and 30 cases of HCC with HCV admitted to the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Department of Theodor Bilharz Research Institute, Giza, Egypt. Fifteen wedge liver biopsies, taken during laparoscopic cholecystectomy, were included in the study as normal controls. Laboratory investigations, serologic markers for viral hepatitis, and serum alpha fetoprotein levels (alpha-FP) were done for all cases of the study. Immunohistochemistry using primary antibodies against both factors revealed weak to faint immunoreactivity to COX-2 and TGF-beta1 in normal hepatic tissue (< 30% and < 50% of the cells, respectively). COX-2 expression was upregulated in patients with CHC with and without cirrhosis, yet 80% of positively stained cirrhotic cases showed marked staining intensity. Higher COX-2 expression was observed in well-differentiated HCC cases (80%) with marked staining intensity (75%) compared with advanced HCC tumors (P < .001). TGF-beta1 was expressed in the hepatocytes of all cases of CHC with and without cirrhosis as well as in 67% of HCC cases. Extensive cytoplasmic expression was detected in 52%, 93.3%, and 46.6% of CHC patients without cirrhosis, patients with cirrhosis, and patients with HCC , respectively. A positive correlation was observed between hepatic expression of COX-2 and TGF-beta1 (r= 0.67, P < .05); however, no correlation was detected between the latter and grade of HCC differentiation (r= 0.33, P > .05).
Conclusion:These findings may suggest that TGF-beta1 plays a role in hepatic cell damage following HCV infection thus stressing the usefulness of this cytokine as a prognostic marker for liver cell injury. However, COX-2 is a predictive marker for malignant transformation and has a role in the early stages of hepatocarcinogenesis, but not in the advanced stages. The combined expression of both factors in HCV-related HCC suggests their synergistic action in the pathophysiology of hepatocarcinogenesis.


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