Mutat Res 2006 Nov-Dec;613(2-3):123-37. Epub 2006 Sep 25.
Department of Medicine I, Division: Institute of Cancer Research, Medical University of Vienna, Borschkegasse 8a, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.
Activins are a closely related subgroup within the TGFbeta superfamily of growth and differentiation factors. They consist of two disulfide-linked beta subunits. Four mammalian activin beta subunits termed beta(A), beta(B), beta(C), and beta(E), respectively, have been identified. Activin A, the homodimer of two beta(A) subunits, has important regulatory functions in reproductive biology, embryonic development, inflammation, and tissue repair. Several intra- and extracellular antagonists, including the activin-binding proteins follistatin and follistatin-related protein, serve to fine-tune activin A activity. In the liver there is compelling evidence that activin A is involved in the regulation of cell number by inhibition of hepatocyte replication and induction of apoptosis. In addition, activin A stimulates extracellular matrix production in hepatic stellate cells and tubulogenesis of sinusoidal endothelial cells, and thus contributes to restoration of tissue architecture during liver regeneration. Accumulating evidence from animal models and from patient data suggests that deregulation of activin A signaling contributes to pathologic conditions such as hepatic inflammation and fibrosis, acute liver failure, and development of liver cancer. Increased production of activin A was suggested to be a contributing factor to impaired hepatocyte regeneration in acute liver failure and to overproduction of extracellular matrix in liver fibrosis. Recent evidence suggests that escape of (pre)neoplastic hepatocytes from growth control by activin A through overexpression of follistatin and reduced activin production contributes to hepatocarcinogenesis. The role of the activin subunits beta(C) and beta(E), which are both highly expressed in hepatocytes, is still quite incompletely understood. Down-regulation in liver tumors and a growth inhibitory function similar to that of beta(A) has been shown for beta(E). Contradictory results with regard to cell proliferation have been reported for beta(C). The profound involvement of the activin axis in liver biology and in the pathogenesis of severe hepatic diseases suggests activin as potential target for therapeutic interventions.