Guanine nucleotide regulatory proteins (G-proteins) represent an important transmembrane pathway whereby extracellular signals are transduced to intracellular signaling pathways. The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade has been identified as a key factor in transducing numerous mitogenic stimuli. MAPK activity is regulated via numerous receptor types, including those linked to Gq/G11-proteins, which regulate phospholipase-C activity. We hypothesized that alterations in a Gq/G11-PLC pathway may contribute to the enhanced cellular mitogenesis characteristic of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), possibly via a MAPK-dependent pathway. By using an in vivo model of HCC we investigated changes in Gq/G11-protein expression in tumorigenic tissue versus adjacent, non-neoplastic liver. In addition we addressed the role of Gq/G11-proteins in the regulation of MAPK- linked mitogenesis by using rat hepatic tumorigenic cells (H4IIE) and isolated hepatocytes in culture. Western blot analysis showed significant increases in Gqα and G11α expression in tumorigenic liver versus normal liver specimens, an effect that was augmented in cultured H4IIE cells versus isolated cultured hepatocytes. Furthermore, phosphoinositol specific phospholipase-C (PLC) activity was significantly increased in HCC versus normal liver. A specific PLC inhibitor (Et-18OCH3) caused a dose-dependent decrease in serum stimulated DNA synthesis in both cultured H4IIE cells and isolated rat hepatocytes, the H4IIE cell line showing greater sensitivity to Et-18-OCH3. In addition, serum-stimulated MAPK activity was significantly enhanced in H4IIE versus cultured hepatocytes. Moreover, treatment with Et- 18OCH3 significantly attenuated serum stimulated MAPK activity in both cultured hepatocytes and H4IIE cells. Furthermore, U73122 (Gqα-PLC specific uncoupler) and GP2A (Gqα specific inhibitor) mirrored the effects of those observed for Et-18-OCH3 whereas PD98059 (specific MEK inhibitor) completely abolished serum-stimulated DNA synthesis in tumorigenic H4IIE cells. We conclude that HCC is associated with enhanced Gq/G11-PLC expression/activity as compared with normal liver. Furthermore, a PLC-linked MAPK cascade plays a significant role in the progression of the enhanced mitogenesis characteristic of HCC.
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