Clinicopathological characteristics and liver stem cell marker expression in hepatocellular carcinoma involving bile duct tumor thrombi
It is generally believed that the invasion of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) into the biliary tree ultimately leads to the formation of bile duct tumor thrombi (BDTT). However, recent studies revealed that primary tumor might be small, even undetectable, and there was no histopathologic evidence of direct tumor invasion into bile duct wall in some patients. During the last decade, efforts on stem cell biology may shed light on the pathogenesis of BDTT. Presently, accumulating evidence supports the following notions: (1) the canals of Hering (CoH) are the most likely origin of liver stem/progenitor cells (LSPCs) in adult livers; (2) similar signalling pathways may regulate self-renewal in LSPCs and liver cancer cells, and a substantial proportion of liver tumors may often originate from the transformation of LSPCs; and (3) liver cancer contains rare cells with stem cell-like properties, which could derive from malignant transformation of LSPCs. Herein, we propose that HCC with BDTT, especially with small or undetectable primary lesion and/or no histopathologic evidence for bile duct invasion, might arise from LSPCs residing in the CoH and, possibly, some primary lesions are formed firstly within the intrahepatic biliary tree. When “tumor thrombi” extends mainly along bile duct, there might be “BDTT” alone; when it invades into surrounding parenchyma, there might often be small “primary tumor” with “BDTT”. If this holds true, the putative type may be a particular subset of HCC, and most importantly it would facilitate our understanding of stem-cell origin of HCC.