The goal of the present study was to investigate the potential correlation between the expression level of upregulator of cell proliferation (URGCP/URG4) and the prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and to examine the biological function of URGCP/URG4 in the progression of HCC, to better understand its underlying molecular mechanism in hepatic tumorigenesis.
URGCP/URG4 expression was analyzed in 15 HCC cell lines, in 278 archived paraffin-embedded HCC sections, and in 10 pairs of fresh HCC tumor and para-tumor non-cancerous tissues using immunohistochemistry (IHC) and Western blotting analysis (WB). The effect of URGCP/URG4 on cell proliferation and tumorigenesis was examined in vitro and in vivo. WB and luciferase reporter analyses were performed to identify the effects of URGCP/URG4-overexpression or -knockdown on expression of cell cycle regulators and transcriptional activity of FOXO3a.
IHC results revealed an upregulation of URGCP/URG4 in all HCC cell lines and fresh HCC samples as compared with normal liver cells and para-tumor tissues, respectively. URGCP/URG4 was also expressed at a high level in 122 of the 278 (43.8%) archived HCC specimens. The expression level of URGCP/URG4 was significantly correlated with clinical staging and poor patient survival of HCC in the study cohort, and in various clinical subgroups. Strikingly, ectopic expression of URGCP/URG4 induced proliferation and anchorage-independent growth of HCC cells, while silencing of URGCP/URG4 had the opposite effect. Furthermore, URGCP/URG4 overexpression in HCC cells increased cellular entry into the G1/S transitional phase, associated with downregulation of p27Kip1 and p21Cip1 and upregulation of cyclin D1. These effects were accompanied by enhanced Akt activity and reduced FOXO3a transcriptional activity.
URGCP/URG4 plays an important role in promoting proliferation and tumorigenesis of HCC and may represent a novel prognostic biomarker and therapeutic target for this disease.