Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 and β-Catenin Coactivation in Hepatocellular Cancer: Biological and Therapeutic Implications

Junyan Tao, Yekaterina Krutsenko, Akshata Moghe, Sucha Singh, Minakshi Poddar, Aaron Bell, Michael Oertel, Aatur D. Singhi, David Geller, Xin Chen, Amaia Lujambio, Silvia Liu, Satdarshan P. Monga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background and Aims: HCC remains a major unmet clinical need. Although activating catenin beta-1 (CTNNB1) mutations are observed in prominent subsets of HCC cases, these by themselves are insufficient for hepatocarcinogenesis. Coexpression of mutant CTNNB1 with clinically relevant co-occurrence has yielded HCCs. Here, we identify cooperation between β-catenin and nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) signaling in HCC. Approach and Results: Public HCC data sets were assessed for concomitant presence of CTNNB1 mutations and either mutations in nuclear factor erythroid-2–related factor-2 (NFE2L2) or Kelch like-ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1), or Nrf2 activation by gene signature. HCC development in mice and similarity to human HCC subsets was assessed following coexpression of T41A-CTNNB1 with either wild-type (WT)-, G31A-, or T80K-NFE2L2. Based on mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 activation in CTNNB1-mutated HCCs, response of preclinical HCC to mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor was investigated. Overall, 9% of HCC cases showed concomitant CTNNB1 mutations and Nrf2 activation, subsets of which were attributable to mutations in NFE2L2/KEAP1. Coexpression of mutated CTNNB1 with mutant NFE2L2, but not WT-NFE2L2, led to HCC development and mortality by 12-14 weeks. These HCCs were positive for β-catenin targets, like glutamine synthetase and cyclin-D1, and Nrf2 targets, like NAD(P)H quinone dehydrogenase 1 and peroxiredoxin 1. RNA-sequencing and pathway analysis showed high concordance of preclinical HCC to human HCC subset showing activation of unique (iron homeostasis and glioblastoma multiforme signaling) and expected (glutamine metabolism) pathways. NFE2L2-CTNNB1 HCC mice were treated with mTOR inhibitor everolimus (5-mg/kg diet ad libitum), which led to >50% decrease in tumor burden. Conclusions: Coactivation of β-catenin and Nrf2 is evident in 9% of all human HCCs. Coexpression of mutant NFE2L2 and mutant CTNNB1 led to clinically relevant HCC development in mice, which responded to mTOR inhibitors. Thus, this model has both biological and therapeutic implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)741-759
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology


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