Carcinogenesis 2003 Nov 29;24(11):1801-9. Epub 2003 Aug 29.
Institute of Cancer Research, University of Vienna, Borschkegasse 8a, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.
Activins C and E (homodimers of the betaC and betaE subunits), which are almost exclusively expressed in the liver, are members of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) superfamily of growth factors. We examined their expression in three different hepatoma cell lines and found that, compared with normal liver or primary hepatocytes, human hepatoblastoma (HepG2), human hepatocellular carcinoma (Hep3B) and rat hepatoma (H4IIEC3) cells have either completely lost or drastically reduced the expression of activins C and E. In order to elucidate the biological function of these proteins we transiently transfected HepG2, Hep3B and H4IIEC3 cell lines with rat activin betaC or betaE cDNA to study the consequences of restoring activin expression in hepatoma cells. Transfection with activin betaA, a known inhibitor of hepatic DNA synthesis and inducer of apoptosis, served as a positive control. We found that transfection of the three cell lines with activin betaC or betaE, as well as with activin betaA, reduced the increase in cell number by up to 40% compared with cells transfected with a control plasmid. Co-culture with a CHO cell clone secreting activin C also inhibited HepG2 cell multiplication. Furthermore, the three hepatoma cell lines studied showed an enhanced rate of apoptosis and elevated levels of active caspases in response to activin transfection. These results indicate that activins C and E share the potential to induce apoptosis in liver derived cell lines with activin A and TGFbeta1.