Further understanding of the molecular biology and pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is crucial for future therapeutic development. SMAD4, recognized as an important tumor suppressor, is a central mediator of transforming growth factor beta (TGFB) and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling. This study investigated the role of SMAD4 in HCC. Nuclear localization of SMAD4 was observed in a cohort of 140 HCC patients using tissue microarray. HCC cell lines were used for functional assay in vitro and in immune-deficient mice. Nuclear SMAD4 levels were significantly increased in patient HCC tumors as compared with adjacent tissues. Knockdown of SMAD4 significantly reduced the efficiency of colony formation and migratory capacity of HCC cells in vitro and was incompatible with HCC tumor initiation and growth in mice. Knockdown of SMAD4 partially conferred resistance to the anti-growth effects of BMP ligand in HCC cells. Importantly, simultaneous elevation of SMAD4 and phosphorylated SMAD2/3 is significantly associated with poor patient outcome after surgery. Although high levels of SMAD4 can also mediate an antitumor function by coupling with phosphorylated SMAD1/5/8, this signaling, however, is absent in majority of our HCC patients. In conclusion, this study revealed a highly non-canonical tumor-promoting function of SMAD4 in HCC. The drastic elevation of nuclear SMAD4 in sub-population of HCC tumors highlights its potential as an outcome predictor for patient stratification and a target for personalized therapeutic development.

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Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1038/onc.2014.425, hdl.handle.net/1765/90671
Journal Oncogene: including Oncogene Reviews
Hernanda, P.Y, Chen, K, Das, A.M, Sideras, K, Wang, W, Li, J, … Pan, Q. (2014). SMAD4 exerts a tumor-promoting role in hepatocellular carcinoma. Oncogene: including Oncogene Reviews, 34(39), 5055–5068. doi:10.1038/onc.2014.425