Decreased PCSK9 expression in human hepatocellular carcinoma

Mamatha Bhat, Nicolas Skill, Victoria Marcus, Marc Deschenes, Xianming Tan, Jeanne Bouteaud, Sarita Negi, Zuhier Awan, Reid Aikin, Janet Kwan, Ramila Amre, Sebastien Tabaries, Mazen Hassanain, Nabil G. Seidah, Mary Maluccio, Peter Siegel, Peter Metrakos

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12 Scopus citations


Background: The management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is limited by the lack of adequate screening biomarkers and chemotherapy. In response, there has been much interest in tumor metabolism as a therapeutic target. PCSK9 stimulates internalization of the LDL-receptor, decreases cholesterol uptake into hepatocytes and affects liver regeneration. Thus, we investigated whether PCSK9 expression is altered in HCC, influencing its ability to harness cholesterol metabolism. Methods: Thirty-nine patients undergoing partial hepatectomy or liver transplantation for HCC were consented for use of HCC tissue to construct a tissue microarray (TMA). The TMA was immunostained for PCSK9. Imagescope software was used to objectively determine staining, and assess for pathological and clinical correlations. PCSK9 and LDL receptor mRNA levels in flash-frozen HCC and adjacent liver tissue were determined by quantitative RT-PCR. Serum PCSK9 levels were determined by ELISA. Results: By immunohistochemistry, there was significantly lower expression of PCSK9 in HCC as compared to adjacent cirrhosis (p-value < 0.0001, wilcoxon signed-rank test). Significantly greater staining of PCSK9 was present in cirrhosis compared to HCC (p value <0.0001), and positivity (percentage of positive cells) was significantly greater in cirrhosis compared to HCC (p-value < 0.0001). Conversely, significantly higher expression of LDL-R was present in HCC as compared to the adjacent cirrhosis (p-value < 0.0001). There was no significant correlation of PCSK9 staining with grade of tumor, but there were significant correlations between PCSK9 staining and stage of fibrosis, according to spearman correlation test. PCSK9 mRNA levels were relatively less abundant within HCC compared to adjacent liver tissue (p-value =0.08) and normal control tissue (p-value =0.02). In contrast, serum PCSK9 levels were significantly increased among patients with HCC compared to those with chronic liver disease without HCC (p-value =0.029). LDL receptor mRNA was consistantly greater in HCC when compared to normal control tissue (p-value = 0.06) and, in general, was significantly greater in HCC when compared to adjacent liver (p-value = 0.04). Conclusions: The decreased expression of PCSK9 and conversely increased LDL-R expression in HCC suggests that HCC modulates its local microenvironment to enable a constant energy supply. Larger-scale studies should be conducted to determine whether PCSK9 could be a therapeutic target for HCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number176
JournalBMC Gastroenterology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 16 2015


  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • PCSK9
  • Tumor metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology

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    Bhat, M., Skill, N., Marcus, V., Deschenes, M., Tan, X., Bouteaud, J., Negi, S., Awan, Z., Aikin, R., Kwan, J., Amre, R., Tabaries, S., Hassanain, M., Seidah, N. G., Maluccio, M., Siegel, P., & Metrakos, P. (2015). Decreased PCSK9 expression in human hepatocellular carcinoma. BMC Gastroenterology, 15(1), [176].