Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) occurs more frequently and aggressively in men than women, but the mechanistic basis of this gender disparity is obscure. Chronic inflammation is a major etiologic factor in HCC, so we investigated the role of cortisol in gender discrepancy in a zebrafish model of HCC. Inducible expression of oncogenic KrasV12 in hepatocytes of transgenic zebrafish resulted in accelerated liver tumor progression in males. These tumors were more heavily infiltrated with tumor-associated neutrophils (TAN) and tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) versus females, and they both showed protumor gene expression and promoted tumor progression. Interestingly, the adrenal hormone cortisol was predominantly produced in males to induce Tgfb1 expression, which functioned as an attractant for TAN and TAM. Inhibition of cortisol signaling in males, or increase of cortisol level in females, decreased or increased the numbers of TAN and TAM, respectively, accompanied by corresponding changes in protumor molecular expression. Higher levels of cortisol, TGFB1, and TAN/TAM infiltration in males were also confirmed in human pre-HCC and HCC samples, features that positively correlated in human patients. These results identify increased cortisol production and TAN/TAM infiltration as primary factors in the gender disparity of HCC development in both fish and human. Cancer Res; 77(6); 1395–407. ©2017 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Cancer Research Online (http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received August 10, 2016.
- Revision received December 12, 2016.
- Accepted December 26, 2016.
- ©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.