The role of autophagy in hepatocellular carcinoma: friend or foe

Lian Liu, Jia-Zhi Liao, Xing-Xing He and Pei-Yuan Li _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:57707-57722. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.17202

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Lian Liu1, Jia-Zhi Liao1, Xing-Xing He1 and Pei-Yuan Li1

1Institute of Liver Diseases, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China

Correspondence to:

Pei-Yuan Li, email: [email protected]

Xing-Xing He, email: [email protected]

Keywords: autophagy, hepatocellular carcinoma, signaling pathways, biomarkers, tumor therapy

Received: January 09, 2017     Accepted: April 06, 2017     Published: April 18, 2017


Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved lysosome-dependent catabolic process which degrades cell’s components in order to recycle substrates to exert optimally and adapt to tough circumstances. It is a critical cellular homeostatic mechanism with stress resistance, immunity, antiaging, and pro-tumor or anti-tumor effects. Among these, the role of autophagy in cancer is the most eye-catching that is not immutable but dynamic and highly complex. Basal autophagy acts as a tumor suppressor by maintaining genomic stability in normal cells. However, once a tumor is established, unbalanced autophagy will contribute to carcinoma cell survival under tumor microenvironment and in turn promote tumor growth and development. The dynamic role of autophagy can also apply on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC is a highly malignant cancer with high morbidity and poor survival rate. Decline or overexpression of autophagic essential genes such as ATG7, ATG5 or Beclin 1 plays a key role in the occurrence and development of HCC but the exact mechanisms are still highly controversial. Signaling pathways or molecules involving in autophagy, for example PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway, ERK/MAPK pathway, PERK pathway, p53, LncRNA PTENP1 (Long non-coding RNA PTENP1), microRNA-375 and so on, occupy an important position in the complex role of autophagy in HCC. Here, we discuss the dynamic role, the signaling pathways and the potential prognostic and therapy value of autophagy in HCC.

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