A new route that regulates the signaling pathways induced by extracellular matrix (ECM) has been discovered by an international team of researchers, affiliated with UNIST. This may serve as a new diagnostic marker and therapeutic target in the fight against chronic liver diseases.
Chronic liver disease is known as the silent killer, as it shows no obvious symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. Therefore, making a proper diagnosis in the early stage of disease progression can be a clinical challenge.
Led by Professor Jiyoung Park in the School of Life Sciences at UNIST, the research team has discovered that endotrophin (ETP) plays a crucial role in producing a pathological microenvironment in liver tissues of chronic liver disease. ETP is a marker of collagen type VI (COL6) formation, known as the link between obesity and cancer.
The study reveals ETP plays an important role in the interaction between 'hepatocytes' and 'non-parenchymal cells' in the progression of liver disease, as follows: ? the signaling pathways from ETP kills the hepatocytes, ? the substances from the dead hepatocytes interact with the hepatocytes, ? cause inflammation and make the liver hard. Finally, if the vicious cycle that leads to 'apoptosis - fibrosis - inflammation' continues, and ? chronic liver disease and liver cancer also occur.
In this work, Professor Park and her research team examined the liver tissues from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients and found that the presence of ETP in tumor-neighboring regions are strongly associated with poor prognosis in HCC patients. Moreover, to assess the direct function of ETP in liver tissues, the research team generated an inducible, liver-specific ETP transgenic mouse (Alb-ETP) and discovered that ETP overexpression is a trigger of liver cancer.
"Therapeutic antibodies that inhibit the activity of ETP can be used to break the vicious circle that occurs between liver tissue cells," says Professor Park.
"ETP is an extracellular substance that can be easily detected in blood," says Professor Park. "ETP, which appears in the early stage of chronic liver disease, may also serve as an early diagnostic marker."