Department of Oncology, University of Torino, Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (IRCC), 10060 Candiolo (Torino), Italy. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide, and its burden is expected to increase further in the next years. In spite of the advances of classical therapies, such as surgery, transplantation, use of radiofrequency and transarterial embolization, the prognosis of this neoplasm has not considerably improved over the past few years. The advent of targeted therapies and the approval of the systemic treatment of advanced HCC with the kinase inhibitor sorafenib have provided some hope for the future. Even if the molecular mechanisms responsible for the onset and progression of HCC are still largely unknown, new therapeutic targets have recently come to the spotlight. One of these targets is the tyrosine kinase receptor for the Hepatocyte Growth Factor, encoded by the MET gene, known to promote tumor growth and metastasis in many human organs. In this review we will summarize the contrasting results obtained in vitro (in HCC cell lines) and in animal experimental models and we will also try to analyze the reasons for the opposite findings, suggesting that the HGF/MET axis can have either a promoting or a suppressive role in the development of HCC. We will also reconsider the evidence of activation of this pathway in human HCCs and discuss the results of the clinical trials performed with MET inhibitors. The final purpose is to better clarify which can be the role of MET as a therapeutic target in HCC.