Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hypoxia-inducible stimulator of erythropoiesis. Besides its traditional application in anemia therapy, it offers an effective treatment in the cancer patients, especially those who receive chemotherapy. Several reports indicated that it could promote the tumor cell proliferation through its specific receptor (EPOR). Unfortunately, the role of EPO/EPOR in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) progressing is still uncertain.
Protein in tumor tissue from HCC patients or H22 tumor-bearing mice was detected with immunohistochemistry. Cells were cultured under 1% oxygen to establish hypoxia. RT-PCR and western blotting were used to measure mRNA and protein of EPO/EPOR, respectively. MTT, flow cytometry and PCNA staining were used to detect cell proliferation. Immunofluorescence staining was applied to study the expression and location of cellular EPOR. The EPOR binding studies were performed with 125I-EPO radiolabeling assay.
EPO and EPOR protein were up-regulated in HCC tissue of patients and H22-bearing mice. These were positively correlated with hypoxia-inducible factor -1 α and ki-67. Hypoxia up-regulated the expression of EPO and EPOR in HepG2 cells. It also induced the proliferation and increased the percentage of divided cells after 24, 48 and 72 h treatment. These were inhibited in cells pre-treated with 0.5 μg/mL soluble-EPOR. Immunofluorescence staining presented that EPOR was obviously translocated from nucleus to cytoplasm and membrane under hypoxia. EPOR binding activity was also increased after exposure to hypoxia. Recombinant human erythropoietin obviously elevated cell proliferation rate and the percentage of divided under hypoxia but not normoxia, which were also inhibited by soluble-EPOR.