Activation of the Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin pathway in combined hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma: significant correlation between p-4E-BP1 expression in cholangiocarcinoma component and prognosis

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The Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, which plays an important role in regulating cellular functions including proliferation, motility, and invasion, is known to be activated in many cancers. Combined hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cholangiocarcinoma (CC) (cHCC-CC) has wide histological diversity characterized by relatively poor prognosis. Because of a lack of investigation into its molecular mechanisms, no effective systemic therapy is currently available for unresectable cHCC-CC tumors. Here, we retrospectively examined the clinicopathological and activation statuses of the Akt/mTOR pathway in 89 cases of cHCC-CC. Expression levels of molecular markers associated with this signaling pathway, including phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN), phosphorylated Akt (p-Akt), p-mTOR, p-ribosomal protein S6 (p-S6RP), and p-eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E)-binding protein 1 (p-4E-BP1), were measured by immunohistochemical staining. In addition, such activation in different cHCC-CC morphological categories was compared by dividing cases into those with HCC (n = 86), CC (n = 78), and intermediate components (n = 60). Comparison of prognosis among these groups revealed that p-4E-BP1 immunopositivity in cHCC-CC cases containing CC a component was a significant risk factor for poorer overall survival (P = 0.041). By evaluating factors in p-4E-BP1 expression in 78 cHCC-CC cases with a CC component, only lymph node metastasis was significantly correlated with positive immunostaining for p-4E-BP1 (P = 0.0222). In conclusion, p-4E-BP1 expression, especially in cHCC-CC cases with a CC component, was a notable Akt/mTOR pathway-related factor associated with poor prognosis. Assessing histological structure and p-4E-BP1 expression in cHCC-CC may be helpful for both predicting prognosis and using molecular targeted therapy.

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Author information

Y.Ok., K.K., Y.T., and Y.Od.. designed the research project and evaluated the histological and immunohistochemical findings. Y.Ok. obtained the data and wrote the main part of the manuscript. M.K., Y.M., and Y.Og. reviewed the draft with critical comments.

Correspondence to Yoshinao Oda.

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This study was approved by the Ethics Committee at Kyushu University School of Medicine (No. 26-232) and was conducted in accordance with the ethical guidelines of the 1975 Declaration of Helsinki.

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The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

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Okumura, Y., Kohashi, K., Tanaka, Y. et al. Activation of the Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin pathway in combined hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma: significant correlation between p-4E-BP1 expression in cholangiocarcinoma component and prognosis. Virchows Arch (2020).

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  • Combined hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma
  • Akt/mTOR pathway
  • P-4E-BP1
  • Immunohistochemistry