Cooperation Between the NRF2 Pathway and Oncogenic β-catenin During HCC Tumorigenesis.
ABSTRACT: 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:<h4>Background & aims</h4>Activation of the kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1)-nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) pathway has been associated with metabolic reprogramming in many tumors, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the contribution of Nrf2 mutations in this process remains elusive. Here, we investigated the occurrence of Nrf2 mutations in distinct models of mouse hepatocarcinogenesis.<h4>Methods</h4>HCCs were generated by experimental protocols consisting of the following: (1) a single dose of diethylnitrosamine (DEN), followed by repeated treatments with the nuclear-receptor agonist 1,4-bis-[2-(3,5-dichloropyridyloxy)]benzene; (2) repeated treatments with 1,4-bis-[2-(3,5-dichloropyridyloxy)]benzene alone; (3) a single dose of DEN followed by exposure to a choline-deficient L-amino acid-defined diet; and (4) a single dose of DEN with no further treatment. All of these protocols led to HCC development within 28-42 weeks. Activation of the Keap1-Nrf2 pathway was investigated by analyzing the presence of Nrf2 gene mutations, and the expression of Nrf2 target genes. Metabolic reprogramming was assessed by evaluating the expression of genes involved in glycolysis, the pentose phosphate pathway, and glutaminolysis.<h4>Results</h4>No Nrf2 mutations were found in any of the models of hepatocarcinogenesis analyzed. Intriguingly, despite the described cooperation between β-catenin and the Nrf2 pathway, we found no evidence of Nrf2 activation in both early dysplastic nodules and HCCs, characterized by the presence of up to 80%-90% β-catenin mutations. No HCC metabolic reprogramming was observed either.<h4>Conclusions</h4>These results show that, unlike rat hepatocarcinogenesis, Nrf2 mutations do not occur in 4 distinct models of chemically induced mouse HCC. Interestingly, in the same models, metabolic reprogramming also was minimal or absent, supporting the concept that Nrf2 activation is critical for the switch from oxidative to glycolytic metabolism.
Project description:Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a heterogeneous cancer with active Wnt signaling. Underlying biologic mechanisms remain unclear and no drug targeting this pathway has been approved to date. We aimed to characterize Wnt-pathway aberrations in HCC patients, and to investigate sorafenib as a potential Wnt modulator in experimental models of liver cancer.The Wnt-pathway was assessed using mRNA (642 HCCs and 21 liver cancer cell lines) and miRNA expression data (89 HCCs), immunohistochemistry (108 HCCs), and CTNNB1-mutation data (91 HCCs). Effects of sorafenib on Wnt signaling were evaluated in four liver cancer cell lines with active Wnt signaling and a tumor xenograft model.Evidence for Wnt activation was observed for 315 (49.1%) cases, and was further classified as CTNNB1 class (138 cases [21.5%]) or Wnt-TGF? class (177 cases [27.6%]). CTNNB1 class was characterized by upregulation of liver-specific Wnt-targets, nuclear ?-catenin and glutamine-synthetase immunostaining, and enrichment of CTNNB1-mutation-signature, whereas Wnt-TGF? class was characterized by dysregulation of classical Wnt-targets and the absence of nuclear ?-catenin. Sorafenib decreased Wnt signaling and ?-catenin protein in HepG2 (CTNNB1 class), SNU387 (Wnt-TGF? class), SNU398 (CTNNB1-mutation), and Huh7 (lithium-chloride-pathway activation) cell lines. In addition, sorafenib attenuated expression of liver-related Wnt-targets GLUL, LGR5, and TBX3. The suppressive effect on CTNNB1 class-specific Wnt-pathway activation was validated in vivo using HepG2 xenografts in nude mice, accompanied by decreased tumor volume and increased survival of treated animals.Distinct dysregulation of Wnt-pathway constituents characterize two different Wnt-related molecular classes (CTNNB1 and Wnt-TGF?), accounting for half of all HCC patients. Sorafenib modulates ?-catenin/Wnt signaling in experimental models that harbor the CTNNB1 class signature.
Project description:PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitors have produced encouraging results in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, what determines resistance to anti-PD-1 therapies is unclear. We created a novel genetically engineered mouse model of HCC that enables interrogation of how different genetic alterations affect immune surveillance and response to immunotherapies. Expression of exogenous antigens in MYC;Trp53 -/- HCCs led to T cell-mediated immune surveillance, which was accompanied by decreased tumor formation and increased survival. Some antigen-expressing MYC;Trp53 -/- HCCs escaped the immune system by upregulating the ?-catenin (CTNNB1) pathway. Accordingly, expression of exogenous antigens in MYC;CTNNB1 HCCs had no effect, demonstrating that ?-catenin promoted immune escape, which involved defective recruitment of dendritic cells and consequently impaired T-cell activity. Expression of chemokine CCL5 in antigen-expressing MYC;CTNNB1 HCCs restored immune surveillance. Finally, ?-catenin-driven tumors were resistant to anti-PD-1. In summary, ?-catenin activation promotes immune escape and resistance to anti-PD-1 and could represent a novel biomarker for HCC patient exclusion. SIGNIFICANCE: Determinants of response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapies in HCC are poorly understood. Using a novel mouse model of HCC, we show that ?-catenin activation promotes immune evasion and resistance to anti-PD-1 therapy and could potentially represent a novel biomarker for HCC patient exclusion.See related commentary by Berraondo et al., p. 1003.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 983.
Project description:Recently, we have shown that coexpression of hMet and mutant-?-catenin using sleeping beauty transposon/transposase leads to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in mice that corresponds to around 10% of human HCC. In the current study, we investigate whether Ras activation, which can occur downstream of Met signaling, is sufficient to cause HCC in association with mutant-?-catenin. We also tested therapeutic efficacy of targeting ?-catenin in an HCC model. We show that mutant-K-Ras (G12D), which leads to Ras activation, cooperates with ?-catenin mutants (S33Y, S45Y) to yield HCC in mice. Affymetrix microarray showed?>?90% similarity in gene expression in mutant-K-Ras-?-catenin and Met-?-catenin HCC. K-Ras-?-catenin tumors showed up-regulation of ?-catenin targets like glutamine synthetase (GS), leukocyte cell-derived chemotaxin 2, Regucalcin, and Cyclin-D1 and of K-Ras effectors, including phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase, phosphorylated protein kinase B, phosphorylated mammalian target of rapamycin, phosphorylated eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E, phosphorylated 4E-binding protein 1, and p-S6 ribosomal protein. Inclusion of dominant-negative transcription factor 4 at the time of K-Ras-?-catenin injection prevented HCC and downstream ?-catenin and Ras signaling. To address whether targeting ?-catenin has any benefit postestablishment of HCC, we administered K-Ras-?-catenin mice with EnCore lipid nanoparticles (LNP) loaded with a Dicer substrate small interfering RNA targeting catenin beta 1 (CTNNB1; CTNNB1-LNP), scrambled sequence (Scr-LNP), or phosphate-buffered saline for multiple cycles. A significant decrease in tumor burden was evident in the CTNNB1-LNP group versus all controls, which was associated with dramatic decreases in ?-catenin targets and some K-Ras effectors, leading to reduced tumor cell proliferation and viability. Intriguingly, in relatively few mice, non-GS-positive tumors, which were evident as a small subset of overall tumor burden, were not affected by ?-catenin suppression.Ras activation downstream of c-Met is sufficient to induce clinically relevant HCC in cooperation with mutant ?-catenin. ?-catenin suppression by a clinically relevant modality is effective in treatment of ?-catenin-positive, GS-positive HCCs. (Hepatology 2017;65:1581-1599).
Project description:Up to 41% of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) result from activating mutations in the CTNNB1 gene encoding ?-catenin. HCC-associated CTNNB1 mutations stabilize the ?-catenin protein, leading to nuclear and/or cytoplasmic localization of ?-catenin and downstream activation of Wnt target genes. In patient HCC samples, ?-catenin nuclear and cytoplasmic localization are typically patchy, even among HCC with highly active CTNNB1 mutations. The functional and clinical relevance of this heterogeneity in ?-catenin activation are not well understood. To define mechanisms of ?-catenin-driven HCC initiation, we generated a Cre-lox system that enabled switching on activated ?-catenin in (1) a small number of hepatocytes in early development; or (2) the majority of hepatocytes in later development or adulthood. We discovered that switching on activated ?-catenin in a subset of larval hepatocytes was sufficient to drive HCC initiation. To determine the role of Wnt/?-catenin signaling heterogeneity later in hepatocarcinogenesis, we performed RNA-seq analysis of zebrafish ?-catenin-driven HCC. At the single-cell level, 2.9% to 15.2% of hepatocytes from zebrafish ?-catenin-driven HCC expressed two or more of the Wnt target genes axin2, mtor, glula, myca and wif1, indicating focal activation of Wnt signaling in established tumors. Thus, heterogeneous ?-catenin activation drives HCC initiation and persists throughout hepatocarcinogenesis.
Project description:Proteogenomic analyses of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) have focused on early-stage, HBV-associated HCCs. Here we present an integrated proteogenomic analysis of HCCs across clinical stages and etiologies. Pathways related to cell cycle, transcriptional and translational control, signaling transduction, and metabolism are dysregulated and differentially regulated on the genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and phosphoproteomic levels. We describe candidate copy number-driven driver genes involved in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, the Wnt-β-catenin, AKT/mTOR and Notch pathways, cell cycle and DNA damage regulation. The targetable aurora kinase A and CDKs are upregulated. CTNNB1 and TP53 mutations are associated with altered protein phosphorylation related to actin filament organization and lipid metabolism, respectively. Integrative proteogenomic clusters show that HCC constitutes heterogeneous subgroups with distinct regulation of biological processes, metabolic reprogramming and kinase activation. Our study provides a comprehensive overview of the proteomic and phophoproteomic landscapes of HCCs, revealing the major pathways altered in the (phospho)proteome.
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: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:Aberrant wnt/?-catenin signaling and amplification/overexpression of Myc are associated with hepatoblastoma (HB), the most prevalent type of childhood liver cancer. To address their roles in the pathogenesis of HB, we generated mice in which Myc and mutant ?-catenin were targeted to immature cells of the developing mouse liver. Perinatal coexpression of both genes promoted the preferential development of HBs over other tumor types in neonatal mice, all of which bore striking resemblance to their human counterparts. Integrated analysis indicated that tumors emerged as a consequence of Myc-driven alterations in hepatoblast fate in a background of pan-hepatic injury, inflammation, and nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2/Nrf2-dependent antioxidant signaling, which was specifically associated with expression of mutant ?-catenin but not Myc. Immunoprofiling of human HBs confirmed that approximately 50% of tumors demonstrated aberrant activation of either Myc or Nfe2l2/Nrf2, while knockdown of Nrf2 in a cell line-derived from a human HB with NFE2L2 gene amplification reduced tumor cell growth and viability. Taken together, these data indicate that ?-catenin creates a protumorigenic hepatic environment in part by indirectly activating Nrf2 and implicate oxidative stress as a possible driving force for a subset of ?-catenin-driven liver tumors in children.
Project description:Up to 41% of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) result from activating mutations in the CTNNB1 gene encoding β-catenin. β-catenin has dual cellular functions as a component of the Wnt signaling pathway and adherens junctions. HCC-associated CTNNB1 mutations stabilize the β-catenin protein, leading to nuclear and/or cytoplasmic localization of β-catenin and downstream activation of Wnt target genes. In patient HCC samples, β-catenin nuclear and cytoplasmic localization are typically patchy, even among HCC with highly active CTNNB1 mutations. The functional and clinical relevance of this heterogeneity in β-catenin activation are not well understood. To define mechanisms of β-catenin-driven HCC initiation, we generated a Cre-lox system that enabled switching on activated β-catenin in 1) a small number of hepatocytes in early development; or 2) the majority of hepatocytes in later development or adulthood. We discovered that switching on activated β-catenin in a subset of larval hepatocytes was sufficient to drive HCC initiation. To determine the role of Wnt/β-catenin signaling heterogeneity later in hepatocarcinogenesis, we performed RNA-seq analysis of zebrafish β-catenin-driven HCC. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis of differentially expressed genes in the Cre-lox HCC model revealed that “Cancer” and “Liver Tumor” categories were significantly altered, indicating transcriptional similarities with human HCC and other vertebrate HCC models. At the single-cell level, 2.9% to 15.2% of hepatocytes from zebrafish β-catenin-driven HCC expressed two or more of the Wnt target genes axin2, mtor, glula, myca, and wif1, indicating focal activation of Wnt signaling in established tumors. Thus, heterogeneous β-catenin activation drives HCC initiation and persists throughout hepatocarcinogenesis.