This is a revised renewal application for a grant, now in its 5th year, aiming to understand the role of HGF and signaling pathways in hepatic tissue assembly. Our recent studies have demonstrated that HGF and its receptor Met, as well as EGF receptor and the EGFR associated ligands) constitute the only two receptor tyrosine kinases capable of delivering a mitogenic signal to hepatocytes (in serum-free media and when administered to the whole animal, rat or mouse). We have also showed that HGF/Met and EGFR are the only two signaling systems capable of promoting transdifferentiation of hepatocytes to biliary epithelial cells in culture. These unique effects of HGF/Met and EGFR are highly significant. Many other receptor tyrosine kinases are expressed in hepatocytes and their ligands are capable of activating the cognate receptor, yet mitogenic signals are limited to HGF/Met and EGFR. We have recently applied short term knock down (KD) of either HGF/Met or EGFR by ShRNA and demonstrated that both have inhibitory effects on liver regeneration, that the one signal cannot compensate totally for the other, and that the effects are different in scope and complexity. KD of EGFR was followed by compensatory increases in other members of the ErbB family and upregulation of MET. In each instance, there was significant but not lethal activation of pro-apoptotic pathways. We further extend these studies in rats and performed a double KD of both HGF/Met and EGFR followed by partial hepatectomy (PHx). The result was complete liver failure, with massive apoptosis and necrosis of most hepatocytes and collapse of the hepatic parenchyma. This effect was not seen when double KD was performed without PHx. The proposed study will aim to determine the signals that lead to liver failure under the hypothesis that many cytokines involved in liver regeneration (e.g. TNF and TGFb1) can also function as agents that bring hepatocyte death and liver failure when the mitogenic signals of both EGFR and MET fail to function. In addition to the experimental studies, we will also analyze expression and status of activation of the above receptors as well cytokines capable of inducing hepatocyte death and liver failure in human liver material obtained from cases of fulminant hepatic necrosis. Finally we will assess the importance of the compensatory mechanisms emerging after KD of EGFR and determine whether abrogation of these mechanisms is capable to also lead to liver failure by itself. The combination of these studies may allow us to understand the mechanisms that lead to massive hepatic necrosis as an aberrant dis-coordination of the early signals involved in liver regeneration and allow design of therapeutic interventions for prevention of massive hepatic necrosis based on rational mechanistic schemes.
The proposed studies aim to bring to bear the knowledge gained from liver regeneration to the elucidation of the pathways leading to liver failure. Fulminant hepatic failure (FHF) remains as one of the most lethal and costly human diseases curable only by liver transplantation. The failure of the liver to regenerate and the potential failure of the two mitogenic receptors (EGFR and MET) in combination with altered pathways involved in regeneration that can also induce hepatocyte apoptosis (e.g. TNF) are very likely to provide rational mechanistic understanding and therapeutic options in management of this serious clinical problem.
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