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1.  Oxidative damage in the progression of chronic liver disease to hepatocellular carcinoma: An intricate pathway 
The histo-pathologic and molecular mechanisms leading to initiation and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are still ill-defined; however, there is increasing evidence that the gradual accumulation of mutations, genetic and epigenetic changes which occur in preneoplastic hepatocytes results in the development of dysplastic foci, nodules, and finally, overt HCC. As well as many other neoplasias, liver cancer is considered an “inflammatory cancer”, arising from a context of inflammation, and characterized by inflammation-related mechanisms that favor tumor cell survival, proliferation, and invasion. Molecular mechanisms that link inflammation and neoplasia have been widely investigated, and it has been well established that inflammatory cells recruited at these sites with ongoing inflammatory activity release chemokines that enhance the production of reactive oxygen species. The latter, in turn, probably have a major pathogenic role in the continuum starting from hepatitis followed by chronic inflammation, and ultimately leading to cancer. The relationship amongst chronic liver injury, free radical production, and development of HCC is explored in the present review, particularly in the light of the complex network that involves oxidative DNA damage, cytokine synthesis, telomere dysfunction, and microRNA regulation.
PMCID: PMC3964380
Reactive oxygen species; Viral hepatitis; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Telomere dysfunction; Cytokines; mitochondria; Antioxidant mechanisms; MicroRNA and circulating free DNA
2.  Laparoscopic Ablation of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Cirrhotic Patients Unsuitable for Liver Resection or Percutaneous Treatment: A Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57249.
The aim of this study was to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of laparoscopic ablation for cirrhotic HCC patients. Between January 2004 and December 2009, laparoscopic ablation was applied prospectively in 169 consecutive HCC patients (median age 62 years, 43% hepatitis C positive) considered ineligible for liver resection and/or percutaneous ablation. There was clinically relevant portal hypertension in 72% of cases. A significant proportion of subjects (50%) had multinodular tumors or nodules larger than 25 mm. The main ablation techniques used were radiofrequency in 103 patients (61%), microwave ablation in 8 (5%), and ethanol injection in 58 (34%). The primary endpoint was 3-year survival. There was no perioperative mortality. The overall morbidity rate was 25%. The median postoperative hospital stay was 3 days (range 1–19 days). Patients survived a median 33 months with a 3-year survival rate of 47%. Cox's multivariate analysis identified patient age, presence of diabetes, albumin ≤37 g/l, and alpha-fetoprotein >400 µg/l as significant preoperative predictors of survival, while the chance to undergo liver transplantation and postoperative ascites were the only independent postoperative predictor of survival. Laparoscopic ablation is a safe and effective therapeutic option for selected HCC patients ineligible for liver resection and/or percutaneous ablation.
PMCID: PMC3578795  PMID: 23437351
3.  Autophagy and apoptosis-related genes in chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma 
BMC Gastroenterology  2012;12:118.
Dysregulation of autophagy is important in the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cancer. Several aspects of the biological role of autophagy are however still unclear and the relationship between apoptosis and autophagy, particularly in the liver has yet to be thoroughly explored. In this study we evaluated the expression of Beclin 1 (one of the main autophagocytic agents, which bridges autophagy, apoptosis and both differentiation), and both pro- (Bad, Bax) and anti-apoptotic (Bcl-2, Bcl-xL) factors in liver samples from patients with different stages of liver disease.
The study concerned 93 patients from 49 cases of chronic hepatitis (CH) (30 HCV and 19 HBV-related), 13 of cirrhosis (CIRR) (10 HCV and 3 HBV-related), 21 of hepatocellular carcinoma (both HCC and peritumoral tissues [PHCC]), and 10 controls (CONTR). Real-time PCR and Western blotting were used to measure mRNA and protein expression levels.
Beclin 1 mRNA levels were lower in HCC than in CH (P = 0.010) or CIRR (P = 0.011), and so were the Bcl-xL transcripts (P < 0.0001). Bad mRNA levels were higher in CH and CIRR than in CONTR, while Bax transcripts were increased in all tissues (P = 0.036). PHCC expressed the highest Bcl-2 mRNA levels. HBV-related CH tissues showed significantly higher Bcl-xL and Bad mRNA levels than HCV-related CH (P = 0.003 and P = 0.016, respectively).
High Beclin 1, Bcl-xL and Bad levels in CH and CIRR tissues suggest an interaction between autophagy and apoptosis in the early and intermediate stages of viral hepatitis. In HCC these processes seem to be downregulated, probably enabling the survival and growth of neoplastic hepatocytes.
PMCID: PMC3449193  PMID: 22928777
Autophagy; B and C virus infection; Beclin 1; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Pro- and anti-apoptotic factors.
4.  Operative link for gastritis assessment vs operative link on intestinal metaplasia assessment 
AIM: To compare the reliability of gastritis staging systems in ranking gastritis-associated cancer risk in a large series of consecutive patients.
METHODS: Gastric mucosal atrophy is the precancerous condition in which intestinal-type gastric cancer (GC) most frequently develops. The operative link for gastritis assessment (OLGA) staging system ranks the GC risk according to both the topography and the severity of gastric atrophy (as assessed histologically on the basis of the Sydney protocol for gastric mucosal biopsy). Both cross-sectional and long-term follow-up trials have consistently associated OLGA stages III-IV with a higher risk of GC. A recently-proposed modification of the OLGA staging system (OLGIM) basically incorporates the OLGA frame, but replaces the atrophy score with an assessment of intestinal metaplasia (IM) alone. A series of 4552 consecutive biopsy sets (2007-2009) was retrieved and reassessed according to both the OLGA and the OLGIM staging systems. A set of at least 5 biopsy samples was available for all the cases considered.
RESULTS: In 4460 of 4552 cases (98.0%), both the high-risk stages (III + IV) and the low-risk stages (0 +I + II) were assessed applying the OLGA and OLGIM criteria. Among the 243 OLGA high-risk stages, 14 (5.8%) were down-staged to a low risk using OLGIM. The 67 (1.5%) incidentally-found neoplastic lesions (intraepithelial or invasive) were consistently associated with high-risk stages, as assessed by both OLGA and OLGIM (P < 0.001 for both). Two of 34 intestinal-type GCs coexisting with a high-risk OLGA stage (stage III) were associated with a low-risk OLGIM stage (stage II).
CONCLUSION: Gastritis staging systems (both OLGA and OLGIM) convey prognostically important information on the gastritis-associated cancer risk. Because of its clinical impact, the stage of gastritis should be included as a conclusive message in the gastritis histology report. Since it focuses on IM alone, OLGIM staging is less sensitive than OLGA staging in the identification of patients at high risk of gastric cancer.
PMCID: PMC3225096  PMID: 22147965
Gastritis; Staging; Atrophic gastritis; Intestinal metaplasia; Operative link for gastritis assessment; Operative link on intestinal metaplasia assessment
5.  Molecular Refinement of Clinical Staging in Hepatocellular Carcinoma Patients Evaluated for Potentially Curative Therapies 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e23093.
VEGF and AFP mRNA determinations in the blood are promising prognostic factors for patients with HCC. This study explores their potential prognostic synergy in a cohort of HCC patients evaluated for potentially curative therapies.
One hundred twenty-four patients with a diagnosis of HCC were prospectively enrolled in the study. Inclusion criteria were: (a) histological diagnosis of HCC and assessment of tumour grade and (b) determination of AFP mRNA status and VEGF levels in the blood before therapy.
At baseline evaluation, 40% of the study group had AFP mRNA in the blood (AFP mRNA positive), and 35% had VEGF23 pg ml−1 (VEGF positive). Surgery was performed in 58 patients (47%), 54 (43%) had tumour ablation, and 12 had chemoembolisation (10%). Median follow-up and survival of the study group were 19 and 26 months (range, 1 to 60), respectively. The association of AFP mRNA and VEGF proved to be prognostically more accurate than their single use in discriminating the risk of death (ROC curve analysis) and survival probability (Cox analysis). In particular, we identified 3 main molecular stages (0,0001): both negative (3-year survival = 63%), one positive (3-year survival = 40%), both positive (3-year survival = 16%). Multivariate analysis identified BCLC staging, surgery, and molecular staging as the most significant survival variables.
The preoperative determination of AFP mRNA status and VEGF may potentially refine the prognostic evaluation of HCC patients and improve the selection process for potentially curative therapies.
PMCID: PMC3164661  PMID: 21912636
6.  Bax Inhibitor-1 down-regulation in the progression of chronic liver diseases 
BMC Gastroenterology  2010;10:35.
Bax inhibitor-1 (BI-1) is an evolutionary conserved endoplasmic reticulum protein that, when overexpressed in mammalian cells, suppresses the apoptosis induced by Bax, a pro-apoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family. The aims of this study were: (1) to clarify the role of intrinsic anti- and pro-apoptotic mediators, evaluating Bax and BI-1 mRNA and protein expressions in liver tissues from patients with different degrees of liver damage; (2) to determine whether HCV and HBV infections modulate said expression.
We examined 62 patients: 39 with chronic hepatitis (CH) (31 HCV-related and 8 HBV-related); 7 with cirrhosis (6 HCV-related and 1 HBV-related); 13 with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) [7 in viral cirrhosis (6 HCV- and 1 HBV-related), 6 in non-viral cirrhosis]; and 3 controls. Bax and BI-1 mRNAs were quantified by real-time PCR, and BI-1 protein expression by Western blot.
CH tissues expressed significantly higher BI-1 mRNA levels than cirrhotic tissues surrounding HCC (P < 0.0001) or HCC (P < 0.0001). Significantly higher Bax transcripts were observed in HCV-genotype-1-related than in HCV-genotype-3-related CH (P = 0.033). A positive correlation emerged between BI-1 and Bax transcripts in CH tissues, even when HCV-related CH and HCV-genotype-1-related CH were considered alone (P = 0.0007, P = 0.0005 and P = 0.0017, respectively).
BI-1 expression is down-regulated as liver damage progresses. The high BI-1 mRNAs levels observed in early liver disease may protect virus-infected cells against apoptosis, while their progressive downregulation may facilitate hepatocellular carcinogenesis. HCV genotype seems to have a relevant role in Bax transcript expression.
PMCID: PMC2873598  PMID: 20359348
7.  Early and very early hepatocellular carcinoma: when and how much do staging and choice of treatment really matter? A multi-center study 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:33.
A consensus on the most reliable staging system for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is still lacking but the most used is a revised Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) system, adopted by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD). We investigated how many patients are diagnosed in "very early" and "early" stage, follow the AASLD guidelines for treatment and whether their survival depends on treatment.
Data were collected in 530 "very early" and "early" HCC patients recruited by a multicentric Italian collaborative group (ITA.LI.CA). The Kaplan-Meier method was used to estimate overall survival and the log rank to test the statistical significance of difference between groups. Cox's multivariate stepwise regression analysis was used to pinpoint independent prognostic factors and the adjusted relative risks (hazard ratios) were calculated as well. A statistical analysis based on the chi-square test was used to identify significant differences in clinical or pathological features between patients. A P-value < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.
"Very early" HCC were 3%; Cox multivariate analysis did not identify variables independently associated with survival. The patients following AASLD recommendations (20%) did not show longer survival. In "early" HCC patients (25%), treatment significantly modulated survival (p = 0.0001); the 28% patients treated according to the AASLD criteria survived longer (p = 0,004). The Cox analysis however identified only age, gender, number of lesions and Child class as independent predictors of survival.
patients with very early" HCC were very few in this analysis. In most instances they were not treated with the treatment suggested as the most appropriate by the AASLD guidelines and the type of treatment had no impact on survival, even though the number of patients was relatively low and part of the patients were diagnosed before the introduction of the guidelines: this analysis, therefore, might not be considered as conclusive and should be validated. The "early" stage group involved more patients, rarely treated according to the guidelines, both overall and also in those diagnosed after their publication; the survival was in part predicted by the type of treatment, with better results in those treated according to AASLD indications.
PMCID: PMC2640412  PMID: 19171074
8.  Tumor marker utility and prognostic relevance of cathepsin B, cathepsin L, urokinase-type plasminogen activator, plasminogen activator inhibitor type-1, CEA and CA 19-9 in colorectal cancer 
BMC Cancer  2008;8:194.
Cathepsin B and L (CATB, CATL), urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) and its inhibitor PAI-1 play an important role in colorectal cancer invasion. The tumor marker utility and prognostic relevance of these proteases have not been evaluated in the same experimental setting and compared with that of CEA and CA-19-9.
Protease, CEA and CA 19-9 serum or plasma levels were determined in 56 patients with colorectal cancer, 25 patients with ulcerative colitis, 26 patients with colorectal adenomas and 35 tumor-free control patients. Protease, CEA, CA 19-9 levels have been determined by ELISA and electrochemiluminescence immunoassay, respectively; their sensitivity, specificity, diagnostic accuracy have been calculated and correlated with clinicopathological staging.
The protease antigen levels were significantly higher in colorectal cancer compared with other groups. Sensitivity of PAI-1 (94%), CATB (82%), uPA (69%), CATL (41%) were higher than those of CEA or CA 19-9 (30% and 18%, respectively). PAI-1, CATB and uPA demonstrated a better accuracy than CEA or CA 19-9. A combination of PAI-1 with CATB or uPA exhibited the highest sensitivity value (98%). High CATB, PAI-1, CEA and CA 19-9 levels correlated with advanced Dukes stages. CATB (P = 0.0004), CATL (P = 0.02), PAI-1 (P = 0.01) and CA 19-9 (P = 0.004) had a significant prognostic impact. PAI-1 (P = 0.001), CATB (P = 0.04) and CA 19-9 (P = 0.02) proved as independent prognostic variables.
At the time of clinical detection proteases are more sensitive indicators for colorectal cancer than the commonly used tumor markers. Determinations of CATB, CATL and PAI-1 have a major prognostic impact in patients with colorectal cancer.
PMCID: PMC2474636  PMID: 18616803
9.  Nidogen 1 and 2 gene promoters are aberrantly methylated in human gastrointestinal cancer 
Molecular Cancer  2007;6:17.
Nidogens are highly conserved proteins of basement membranes. Two nidogen proteins, nidogen 1 and nidogen 2, are known in mammals.
We show that CpG islands of both NID1 and NID2 genes are aberrantly methylated in human cancer samples and cancer cell lines. For both genes, methylation was correlated with loss of gene transcription in human cell lines. Furthermore, demethylation of the NID1 and NID2 promoters restored gene transcription, demonstrating that methylation was responsible for silencing nidogen genes. In primary tumors, we detected NID1 promoter methylation in 67% of colon cancer samples and in 90% of gastric cancers. NID2 promoter was methylated in 29% of colon and 95% of gastric cancers. Immuno-staining for nidogen-2 confirmed the correlation between aberrant methylation and loss of nidogen expression also in primary tumors, implying that aberrant methylation was a mechanism for inhibiting nidogens expression in human gastrointestinal tumors.
These results suggest that loss of nidogens expression has a potential pathogenetic role in colon and stomach tumorigenesis. Nidogens are believed to connect laminin and collagen IV networks, hence stabilizing the basement membrane structure. Nidogens are also important for cell adhesion, as they establish contacts with various cellular integrins. Loss of nidogen expression may favor invasion and metastasis of cancer cells by loosening cell interaction with basal membrane and by weakening the strength of the basement membrane itself, first barrier from the connective vascularized matrix.
PMCID: PMC1831485  PMID: 17328794

Results 1-9 (9)