Nerve growth factor (NGF), as the name says, is an essential peptide factor for the growth and differentiation of neuronal cells. Therefore we can imagine that this growth factor is important for the nervous system including brain. But a recent scientific report tells us another surprising and exciting discovery about this growth factor: NGF is positively related with liver cancer, the No.2 killer among all kinds of cancers in the world.
Biologists led by Dr. Serafino from the National Research Council of Italy published their surprising discovery that NGF and its receptor were aberrantly expressed in the liver of the patients troubled with liver cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma. The research was a collaboration among scientists from National Research Council of Italy, Marino Hospital in Rome, Regina Elena Cancer Institute in Rome, and University of Rome.
These scientists showed that NGF and its receptor trkANGF were expressed in the liver of the patients troubled with liver cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) while these two molecules are not detected in the liver of healthy people.
For a growth factor to affect a cell, there should be its specific receptor expressed on the surface of the target cell. Since both NGF and its specific receptor are abnormally expressed in the liver of patients, NGF seems to be expressed by liver cells to affect themselves (so called autocrine) or to affect adjacent cells (so called paracrine) in patients with liver cirrhosis and/or HCC.
These discoveries indicate that NGF is playing a critical role in the development of liver cirrhosis and its progression towards HCC. Based on this discovery, targeting the NGF or its specific receptor trkANGF in diseased liver may suppress or prevent the development of liver cirrhosis and HCC. In the near future, bioengineers may be able to design a medicine directed to liver to inactivating NGF or its receptor.
The discovery reported in this article also opens up the possibility to use NGF in the early diagnosis of liver cirrhosis and HCC because of the high and specific expression of this growth factor in the liver progressing into liver cirrhosis and/or HCC.
This research was published in the October 7 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology
Reference: World J Gastroenterol 2007; 13(37): 4986-4995
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