Intrinsic activation of β-catenin signaling by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated exon skipping contributes to immune evasion in hepatocellular carcinoma.
ABSTRACT: Comprehensive analysis of clinical samples has recently identified molecular and immunological classification of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and the CTNNB1 (β-catenin)-mutated subtype exhibits distinctive characteristics of immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. For clarifying the molecular mechanisms, we first established human and mouse HCC cells with exon 3 skipping of β-catenin, which promoted nuclear translocation and activated the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, by using newly developed multiplex CRISPR/Cas9-based genome engineering system. Gene set enrichment analysis indicated downregulation of immune-associated gene sets in the HCC cells with activated β-catenin signaling. Comparative analysis of gene expression profiles between HCC cells harboring wild-type and exon 3 skipping β-catenin elucidated that the expression levels of four cytokines were commonly decreased in human and mouse β-catenin-mutated HCC cells. Public exome and transcriptome data of 373 human HCC samples showed significant downregulation of two candidate cytokine genes, CCL20 and CXCL2, in HCC tumors with β-catenin hotspot mutations. T cell killing assays and immunohistochemical analysis of grafted tumor tissues demonstrated that the mouse Ctnnb1Δex3 HCC cells evaded immunosurveillance. Taken together, this study discovered that cytokine controlled by β-catenin signaling activation could contribute to immune evasion, and provided novel insights into cancer immunotherapy for the β-catenin-mutated HCC subtype.
Project description:CTNNB1 (catenin beta 1)-mutated hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) account for a large proportion of human HCCs. They display high levels of respiratory chain activity. As metabolism and redox balance are closely linked, tumor cells must maintain their redox status during these metabolic alterations. We investigated the redox balance of these HCCs and the feasibility of targeting this balance as an avenue for targeted therapy. We assessed the expression of the nuclear erythroid 2 p45-related factor 2 (NRF2) detoxification pathway in an annotated human HCC data set and reported an enrichment of the NRF2 program in human HCCs with CTNNB1 mutations, largely independent of NFE2L2 (nuclear factor, erythroid 2 like 2) or KEAP1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1) mutations. We then used mice with hepatocyte-specific oncogenic β-catenin activation to evaluate the redox status associated with β-catenin activation in preneoplastic livers and tumors. We challenged them with various oxidative stressors and observed that the β-catenin pathway activation increased transcription of Nfe2l2, which protects β-catenin-activated hepatocytes from oxidative damage and supports tumor development. Moreover, outside of its effects on reactive oxygen species scavenging, we found out that Nrf2 itself contributes to the metabolic activity of β-catenin-activated cells. We then challenged β-catenin activated tumors pharmacologically to create a redox imbalance and found that pharmacological inactivation of Nrf2 was sufficient to considerably decrease the progression of β-catenin-dependent HCC development. Conclusion: These results demonstrate cooperation between oncogenic β-catenin signaling and the NRF2 pathway in CTNNB1-mediated HCC tumorigenesis, and we provide evidence for the relevance of redox balance targeting as a therapeutic strategy in CTNNB1-mutated HCC.
Project description:Hepatitis B virus (HBV), along with Hepatitis C virus chronic infection, represents a major risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development. However, molecular mechanisms involved in the development of HCC are not yet completely understood. Recent studies have indicated that mutations in CTNNB1 gene encoding for ?-catenin protein lead to aberrant activation of the Wnt/ ?-catenin pathway. The mutations in turn activate several downstream genes, including c-Myc, promoting the neoplastic process. The present study evaluated the mutational profile of the CTNNB1 gene and expression levels of CTNNB1 and c-Myc genes in HBV-related HCC, as well as in cirrhotic and control tissues. Mutational analysis of the ?-catenin gene and HBV genotyping were conducted by direct sequencing. Expression of ?-catenin and c-Myc genes was assessed using real-time PCR. Among the HCC cases, 18.1% showed missense point mutation in exon 3 of CTNNB1, more frequently in codons 32, 33, 38 and 45. The frequency of mutation in the hotspots of exon 3 was significantly higher in non-viral HCCs (29.4%) rather than HBV-related cases (12.7%, P?=?0.021). The expression of ?-catenin and c-Myc genes was found upregulated in cirrhotic tissues in association with HBV infection. Mutations at both phosphorylation and neighboring sites were associated with increased activity of the Wnt pathway. The results demonstrated that mutated ?-catenin caused activation of the Wnt pathway, but the rate of CTNNB1 gene mutations was not related to HBV infection. HBV factors may deregulate the Wnt pathway by causing epigenetic alterations in the HBV-related HCC.
Project description:Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. The beta-catenin gene, <i>CTNNB1,</i> is among the most frequently mutated in HCC tissues. However, mutational analysis of HCC tumors is hampered by the difficulty of obtaining tissue samples using traditional biopsy. Here, we explored the feasibility of detecting tumor-derived <i>CTNNB1</i> mutations in cell-free DNA (cfDNA) extracted from the urine of HCC patients. Using a short amplicon qPCR assay targeting HCC mutational hotspot <i>CTNNB1</i> codons 32-37 (exon 3), we detected <i>CTNNB1</i> mutations in 25% (18/73) of HCC tissues and 24% (15/62) of pre-operative HCC urine samples in two independent cohorts. Among the CTNNB1-mutation-positive patients with available matched pre- and post-operative urine (<i>n</i> = 13), nine showed apparent elimination (<i>n</i> = 7) or severalfold reduction (<i>n</i> = 2) of the mutation in urine following tumor resection. Four of the seven patients with no detectable mutations in postoperative urine remained recurrence-free within five years after surgery. In contrast, all six patients with mutation-positive in post-operative urine recurred, including the two with reduced mutation levels. This is the first report of association between the presence of <i>CTNNB1</i> mutations in pre- and post-operative urine cfDNA and HCC recurrence with implications for minimum residual disease detection.
Project description:CTNNB1 is the most frequently mutated gene in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, its clinical relevance remains controversial. We determined an evolutionarily conserved β-catenin signature by comparative analysis of gene expression data from human HCC and a mouse model (GSE43628). We generated gene expression data from the tumors of 88 HCC patients who underwent surgical resection as the primary treatment. We used these gene expression data to develop a new prognostification model for prognosis of HCC after surgery. We generated gene expression data from the tumors of 88 HCC patients who underwent surgical resection as the primary treatment.
Project description:Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) represents a serious public health challenge with few therapeutic options available to cancer patients.Wnt/β-catenin pathway is thought to play a significant role in HCC pathogenesis. In this study, we confirmed high frequency of CTNNB1 (β-catenin) mutations in two independent cohorts of HCC patients and demonstrated significant upregulation of β-catenin protein in the overwhelming majority of HCC patient samples, patient-derived xenografts (PDX) and established cell lines. Using genetic tools validated for target specificity through phenotypic rescue experiments, we went on to investigate oncogenic dependency on β-catenin in an extensive collection of human HCC cells lines. Our results demonstrate that dependency on β-catenin generally tracks with its activation status. HCC cell lines that harbored activating mutations in CTNNB1 or displayed elevated levels of non-phosphorylated (active) β-catenin were significantly more sensitive to β-catenin siRNA treatment than cell lines with wild-type CTNNB1 and lower active β-catenin. Finally, significant therapeutic benefit of β-catenin knock-down was demonstrated in established HCC tumor xenografts using doxycycline-inducible shRNA system. β-catenin downregulation and tumor growth inhibition was associated with reduction in AXIN2, direct transcriptional target of β-catenin, and decreased cancer cell proliferation as measured by Ki67 staining. Taken together, our data highlight fundamental importance of aberrant β-catenin signaling in the maintenance of oncogenic phenotype in HCC.
Project description:Hepatocellular cancer (HCC) remains a disease of poor prognosis, highlighting the relevance of elucidating key molecular aberrations that may be targeted for novel therapies. Wnt signalling activation, chiefly due to mutations in CTNNB1, have been identified in a major subset of HCC patients. While several in vitro proof of concept studies show the relevance of suppressing Wnt/?-catenin signalling in HCC cells or tumour xenograft models, no study has addressed the impact of ?-catenin inhibition in a relevant murine HCC model driven by Ctnnb1 mutations.We studied the in vivo impact of ?-catenin suppression by locked nucleic acid (LNA) antisense treatment, after establishing Ctnnb1 mutation-driven HCC by diethylnitrosamine and phenobarbital (DEN/PB) administration.The efficacy of LNA directed against ?-catenin vs. scrambled on Wnt signalling was demonstrated in vitro in HCC cells and in vivo in normal mice. The DEN/PB model leads to HCC with Ctnnb1 mutations. A complete therapeutic response in the form of abrogation of HCC was observed after ten treatments of tumour-bearing mice with ?-catenin LNA every 48h as compared to the scrambled control. A decrease in ?-catenin activity, cell proliferation and increased cell death was evident after ?-catenin suppression. No effect of ?-catenin suppression was evident in non-Ctnnb1 mutated HCC, observed after DEN-only administration.Thus, we provide the in vivo proof of concept that ?-catenin suppression in HCC will be of significant therapeutic benefit, provided the tumours display Wnt activation via mechanisms like CTNNB1 mutations.
Project description:we induce exon skipping and generate a gain-of-function of an oncogene, β-catenin, using CRISPR/Cas9 in mouse liver cells. Specifically, a single guide RNA (sgRNA) targeting exon 3 of β-catenin induces exon skipping and gain-of-function of β-catenin in mouse hepatocytes. In synergy with YAPS127A, exon skipped hepatocytes gain tumorigenic ability and are thus enriched via tumor formation. Surprisingly, characterization of the exon-skipped tumors reveals two distinct subtypes with different histological features. Remarkably, ectopic expression of two representative exon-skipped β-catenin transcripts together with YAPS127A phenocopies the two histologically distinct subtypes of liver cancer. Finally, the transcriptome sequencing analysis reveal two subtypes of liver cancer and most importantly, one subtype of the exon-skipped tumor shows features of hepatoblastoma, while the other does not. This exon skipping model reveals CRISPR/Cas9 can lead to exon-skipped transcripts with in frame coding and gain-of-functions.
Project description:Hepatocellular cancer (HCC) remains a significant therapeutic challenge due to its poorly understood molecular basis. In the current study, we investigated two independent cohorts of 249 and 194 HCC cases for any combinatorial molecular aberrations. Specifically we assessed for simultaneous HMET expression or hMet activation and catenin ?1 gene (CTNNB1) mutations to address any concomitant Met and Wnt signaling. To investigate cooperation in tumorigenesis, we coexpressed hMet and ?-catenin point mutants (S33Y or S45Y) in hepatocytes using sleeping beauty transposon/transposase and hydrodynamic tail vein injection and characterized tumors for growth, signaling, gene signatures, and similarity to human HCC. Missense mutations in exon 3 of CTNNB1 were identified in subsets of HCC patients. Irrespective of amino acid affected, all exon 3 mutations induced similar changes in gene expression. Concomitant HMET overexpression or hMet activation and CTNNB1 mutations were evident in 9%-12.5% of HCCs. Coexpression of hMet and mutant-?-catenin led to notable HCC in mice. Tumors showed active Wnt and hMet signaling with evidence of glutamine synthetase and cyclin D1 positivity and mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase, AKT/Ras/mammalian target of rapamycin activation. Introduction of dominant-negative T-cell factor 4 prevented tumorigenesis. The gene expression of mouse tumors in hMet-mutant ?-catenin showed high correlation, with subsets of human HCC displaying concomitant hMet activation signature and CTNNB1 mutations.We have identified cooperation of hMet and ?-catenin activation in a subset of HCC patients and modeled this human disease in mice with a significant transcriptomic intersection; this model will provide novel insight into the biology of this tumor and allow us to evaluate novel therapies as a step toward precision medicine. (Hepatology 2016;64:1587-1605).
Project description:<h4>Background & aims</h4>Gain of function (GOF) mutations in the CTNNB1 gene are one of the most frequent genetic events in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). T-box transcription factor 3 (TBX3) is a liver-specific target of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and thought to be an oncogene mediating activated β-catenin-driven HCC formation.<h4>Methods</h4>We evaluated the expression pattern of TBX3 in human HCC specimens. Tbx3 was conditionally knocked out in murine HCC models by hydrodynamic tail vein injection of Cre together with c-Met and ΔN90-β-catenin (c-Met/β-catenin) in Tbx3<sup>flox/flox</sup> mice. TBX3 was overexpressed in human HCC cell lines to investigate the functions of TBX3 in vitro.<h4>Results</h4>A bimodal expression pattern of TBX3 in human HCC samples was detected: high expression of TBX3 in GOF CTNNB1 HCC and downregulation of TBX3 in non-CTNNB1 mutant tumors. High expression of TBX3 was associated with increased differentiation and decreased expression signatures of tumor growth. Using Tbx3<sup>flox/flox</sup> mice, we found that ablation of Tbx3 significantly accelerates c-Met/β-catenin-driven HCC formation. Moreover, Tbx3(-) HCC demonstrated increased YAP/TAZ activity. The accelerated tumor growth induced by loss of TBX3 in c-Met/β-catenin mouse HCC was successfully prevented by overexpression of LATS2, which inhibited YAP/TAZ activity. In human HCC cell lines, overexpression of TBX3 inhibited HCC cell growth as well as YAP/TAZ activation. A negative correlation between TBX3 and YAP/TAZ target genes was observed in human HCC samples. Mechanistically, phospholipase D1 (PLD1), a known positive regulator of YAP/TAZ, was identified as a novel transcriptional target repressed by TBX3.<h4>Conclusion</h4>Our study suggests that TBX3 is induced by GOF CTNNB1 mutants and suppresses HCC growth by inactivating PLD1, thus leading to the inhibition of YAP/TAZ oncogenes.<h4>Lay summary</h4>TBX3 is a liver-specific target of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and thought to be an oncogene in promoting liver cancer development. Herein, we demonstrate that TBX3 is in fact a tumor suppressor gene that restricts liver tumor growth. Strategies which increase TBX3 expression and/or activities may be effective for HCC treatment.
Project description:Low-grade and early-stage endometrioid endometrial carcinomas (EECs) have an overall good prognosis but biomarkers identifying patients at risk of relapse are still lacking. Recently, CTNNB1 exon 3 mutation has been identified as a potential risk factor of recurrence in these patients. We evaluate the prognostic value of CTNNB1 mutation in a single-centre cohort of 218 low-grade, early-stage EECs, and the correlation with beta-catenin and LEF1 immunohistochemistry as candidate surrogate markers. CTNNB1 exon 3 hotspot mutations were evaluated by Sanger sequencing. Immunohistochemical staining of mismatch repair proteins (MLH1, PMS2, MSH2, and MSH6), p53, beta-catenin, and LEF1 was performed in representative tissue microarrays. Tumours were also reviewed for mucinous and squamous differentiation, and MELF pattern. Nineteen (8.7%) tumours harboured a mutation in CTNNB1 exon 3. Nuclear beta-catenin and LEF1 were significantly associated with CTNNB1 mutation, showing nuclear beta-catenin a better specificity and positive predictive value for CTNNB1 mutation. Tumours with CTNNB1 exon 3 mutation were associated with reduced disease-free survival (p = 0.010), but no impact on overall survival was found (p = 0.807). The risk of relapse in tumours with CTNNB1 exon 3 mutation was independent of FIGO stage, tumour grade, mismatch repair protein expression, or the presence of lymphovascular space invasion. CTNNB1 exon 3 mutation has a negative impact on disease-free survival in low-grade, early-stage EECs. Nuclear beta-catenin shows a higher positive predictive value than LEF1 for CTNNB1 exon 3 mutation in these tumours.