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Reversing Cancer Cell Fate: Driving Therapeutic Differentiation of Hepatoblastoma to Functional Hepatocyte-Like Cells

  • Smith, Jordan L.
Publication Date
Mar 20, 2020
[email protected]
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Background & Aims: Despite advances in surgical care and chemotherapeutic regimens, the five-year survival rate for Stage IV Hepatoblastoma (HB), the predominant pediatric liver tumor, remains at 27%. YAP1 and β-Catenin co-activation occurs in 80% of children’s HB; however, a lack of conditional genetic models precludes exploration of tumor maintenance and therapeutic targets. Thus, the clinical need for a targeted therapy remains unmet. Given the predominance of YAP1 and β-catenin activation in children’s tumors, I sought to evaluate YAP1 as a therapeutic target in HB. Approach & Results: Herein, I engineered the first conditional murine model of HB using hydrodynamic injection to deliver transposon plasmids encoding inducible YAP1S127A, constitutive β-CateninDelN90, and a luciferase reporter to murine liver. Tumor regression was evaluated using in vivo bioluminescent imaging, and tumor landscape characterized using RNA sequencing, ATAC sequencing and DNA foot-printing. Here I show that YAP1 withdrawal in mice mediates >90% tumor regression with survival for 230+ days. Mechanistically, YAP1 withdrawal promotes apoptosis in a subset of tumor cells and in remaining cells induces a cell fate switch driving therapeutic differentiation of HB tumors into Ki-67 negative “hbHep cells.” hbHep cells have hepatocyte-like morphology and partially restored mature hepatocyte gene expression. YAP1 withdrawal drives formation of hbHeps by modulating liver differentiation transcription factor (TF) occupancy. Indeed, tumor-derived hbHeps, consistent with their reprogrammed transcriptional landscape, regain partial hepatocyte function and can rescue liver damage in mice. Conclusions: YAP1 withdrawal, without modulation of oncogenic β-Catenin, significantly regresses hepatoblastoma, providing the first in vivo data to support YAP1 as a therapeutic target for HB. Modulating YAP1 expression alone is sufficient to drive long-term regression in hepatoblastoma because it promotes cell death in a subset of tumor cells and modulates transcription factor occupancy to reverse the fate of residual tumor cells to mimic functional hepatocytes.

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