Open Access Research article

Up-regulation of platelet-derived growth factor-A is responsible for the failure of re-initiated interferon alpha treatment in hepatocellular carcinoma

Ju-Bo Zhang1, Hui-Chuan Sun1, Wei-Dong Jia12, Peng-Yuan Zhuang1, Yong-Bing Qian1, Xiao-Dong Zhu1, Ling-Qun Kong1, Lu Wang1, Wei-Zhong Wu1 and Zhao-You Tang1*

Author affiliations

1 Liver Cancer Insitute, Zhongshan Hospital, Fudan University; Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Cancer Invasion, Ministry of Education, , Shanghai, China

2 Department of General Surgery, Anhui Provincial Hospital, Anhui Medical University, Hefei, 230001, P.R. China

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Citation and License

BMC Cancer 2012, 12:439  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-439

Published: 1 October 2012



Postoperative interferon-α(IFN-α) treatment delays hepatocellular carcinoma(HCC) recurrence and prolongs patient survival, and may thus be an effective form of adjuvant therapy. However, clinical observations found that HCC recurs in some patients within 8 months of IFN-α treatment being discontinued. We investigated whether HCC regrowth appears after IFN-α is discontinued, whether re-initiated IFN-α is effective, and the underlying mechanisms of IFN-α treatment.


The human HCC nude mouse model LCI-D20 was used to study the effects of IFN-α treatment, discontinued IFN-α treatment, and re-initiated IFN-α treatment on tumor growth. Tumor weight, microvessel density(MVD), serum vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and tumor cell apoptosis were analyzed. Angiogenesis-related factors were studied using cDNA microarray in different tumor samples and confirmed using reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction(RT-PCR) and Western blotting assays. Finally, imatinib was added with re-initiated IFN-α treatment to improve efficacy.


IFN-α (1.5×107 U/kg/day for 20 days) suppressed HCC growth by 60.3% and decreased MVD by 52.2% compared with the control. However, tumor regrowth occurred after IFN-α was discontinued, and re-initiated IFN-α treatment was not effective for inhibiting tumor growth or reducing MVD compared with a saline-treated group. cDNA microarray showed VEGF was down-regulated while platelet-derived growth factor-A (PDGF-A) was up-regulated when IFN-α treatment was re-initiated. These findings were further confirmed with RT-PCR and Western blotting assay. The combination of imatinib with re-initiated IFN-α reduced HCC weight by 30.7% and decreased MVD by 31.1% compared with IFN-α treatment only (P=0.003 and 0.015, respectively).


Tumor regrowth occurred after IFN-α treatment was discontinued. Re-initiated IFN-α treatment was not effective and was associated with up-regulation of PDGF-A, while the VEGF remained suppressed. The combination of a PDGF-receptor inhibitor with IFN-α improved the effect of the re-initiated treatment.

Hepatocellular carcinoma; Interferon-α; Platelet-derived growth factor-A; Vascular endothelial growth factor; Microvessel density