Altered Cell to Cell Communication, Autophagy and Mitochondrial Dysfunction in a Model of Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Potential Protective Effects of Curcumin and Stem Cell Therapy


Background: Hepato-carcinogenesis is multifaceted in its molecular aspects. Among the interplaying agents are altered gap junctions, the proteasome/autophagy system, and mitochondria. The present experimental study was designed to outline the roles of these players and to investigate the tumor suppressive effects of curcumin with or without mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Materials and
Methods: Adult female albino rats were divided into normal controls and animals with HCC induced by diethyl-nitrosamine (DENA) and CCl4. Additional groups treated after HCC induction were: Cur/HCC which received curcumin; MSCs/HCC which received MSCs; and Cur+MSCs/ HCC which received both curcumin and MSCs. For all groups there were histopathological examination and assessment of gene expression of connexin43 (Cx43), ubiquitin ligase-E3 (UCP-3), the autophagy marker LC3 and coenzyme-Q10 (Mito.Q10) mRNA by real time, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, along with measurement of LC3II/LC3I ratio for estimation of autophagosome formation in the rat liver tissue. In addition, the serum levels of ALT, AST and alpha fetoprotein (AFP), together with the proinflammatory cytokines TNFα and IL-6, were determined in all groups.
Results: Histopathological examination of liver tissue from animals which received DENA CCl4 only revealed the presence of anaplastic carcinoma cells and macro-regenerative nodules. Administration of curcumin, MSCs; each alone or combined into rats after induction of HCC improved the histopathological picture. This was accompanied by significant reduction in α-fetoprotein together with proinflammatory cytokines and significant decrease of various liver enzymes, in addition to upregulation of Cx43, UCP-3, LC3 and Mito.Q10 mRNA.
Conclusions: Improvement of Cx43 expression, nonapoptotic cell death and mitochondrial function can repress tumor growth in HCC. Administration of curcumin and/or MSCs have tumor suppressive effects as they can target these mechanisms. However, further research is still needed to verify their effectiveness.