Published online Nov 14, 2015. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i42.12042
Peer-review started: April 18, 2015
First decision: May 18, 2015
Revised: May 28, 2015
Accepted: August 31, 2015
Article in press: August 31, 2015
Published online: November 14, 2015
Liver cancer is one of the world’s most common cancers and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a primary hepatic cancer, accounts for 90%-95% of liver cancer cases. The pathogenesis of HCC consists of a stepwise process of liver damage that extends over decades, due to hepatitis, fatty liver, fibrosis, and cirrhosis before developing fully into HCC. Multiple risk factors are highly correlated with HCC, including infection with the hepatitis B or C viruses, alcohol abuse, aflatoxin exposure, and metabolic diseases. Over the last decade, genetic alterations, which include the regulation of multiple oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes and the activation of tumorigenesis-related pathways, have also been identified as important factors in HCC. Recently, zebrafish have become an important living vertebrate model organism, especially for translational medical research. In studies focusing on the biology of cancer, carcinogen induced tumors in zebrafish were found to have many similarities to human tumors. Several zebrafish models have therefore been developed to provide insight into the pathogenesis of liver cancer and the related drug discovery and toxicology, and to enable the evaluation of novel small-molecule inhibitors. This review will focus on illustrative examples involving the application of zebrafish models to the study of human liver disease and HCC, through transgenesis, genome editing technology, xenografts, drug discovery, and drug-induced toxic liver injury.
Core tip: Hepatocellular carcinoma is one of the major cancers in the world and involves multiple mechanisms of tumor formation. Recently, the zebrafish has gained acceptance as a platform for developmental biology, drug toxicology, and translational medical research, offering innovative methods for studying disease and cancer formation. In this article, we summarize recent advances in the study of HCC based on the zebrafish as a model system through the use of transgenesis tools, genome editing technology, xenografts, drug hepatotoxicity, and novel drug discovery. Finally, we emphasize how each system works and how the technology was used in this cancer model.