Liver cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma, HCC) usually arises as the result of a chronic, inflammatory liver disease. The most common causes here are excessive alcohol consumption as well as a high-fat diet and also chronic infection with the hepatitis viruses B and C. In the course of the inflammatory process, the liver cells (hepatocytes) die more frequently due to programmed cell death. The result is increased cell growth, also referred to as compensatory proliferation, which can lead to tumour development.
A distinction is made between the two most important forms of self-induced cell death, namely apoptosis (programmed cell death) and necroptosis (programmed necrosis), which are based on different cellular mechanisms. Until now, it was not clear which form of cell death is decisive for the development of malignant liver tumours. The team working with Professor Dr. Tom Luedde from the RWTH Aachen University Hospital and Professor Dr. Mathias Heikenwälder from the Institute of Virology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) has now been able to verify that apoptosis precedes the development of abnormal liver cells. The scientists, including Florian Reisinger from the Institute of Virology (HMGU) and Dr. Kristian Unger from the Research Unit Radiation Cytogenetics (HMGU) showed this using mouse models. Moreover they discovered that in contrast, necroptosis prevents uninhibited cell proliferation and consequently the development of liver cancer.