Wilms' tumor 1 gene expression in hepatocellular carcinoma promotes cell dedifferentiation and resistance to chemotherapy
Maria J. Perugorria (1), Josefa Castillo (1), M. Ujue Latasa (1), Saioa Goñi (1), Victor Segura (2), Bruno Sangro (3), Jesús Prieto (1,3), Matías A. Avila (1), and Carmen Berasain (1)
The Wilms' tumor 1 gene (WT1) encodes a transcription factor involved in cell growth and development. As we previously reported, WT1 expression is hardly detectable in normal hepatic tissue but is induced in liver cirrhosis. Although WT1 has been found to be overexpressed in a number of malignancies, the role of WT1 in hepatocarcinogenesis has not been clarified.
We found that WT1 is expressed in several human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines, including PLC/PRF/5 and HepG2, and in HCC tumor tissue in 42% of patients. WT1 small interfering RNAs did not affect proliferation rate of HCC cells but abrogated their resistance to anoikis. Transcriptome analysis of PLC/PRF/5 cells after WT1 knockdown showed up-regulation of 251 genes and down-regulation of 321. Ninety percent of the former corresponded to metabolic genes, mostly those characterizing the mature hepatocyte phenotype.
On the contrary, genes that decreased upon WT1 inhibition were mainly related to defense against apoptosis, cell cycle, and tumor progression. In agreement with these findings, WT1 expression increased the resistance of liver tumor cells to doxorubicin, a compound used to treat HCC. Interestingly, doxorubicin strongly enhanced WT1 expression in both HCC cells and normal human hepatocytes. Among different chemotherapeutics, induction of WT1 transcription was restricted to topoisomerase 2 inhibitors. When WT1 expression was prohibited, doxorubicin caused a marked increase in caspase-3 activation.
In conclusion, WT1 is expressed in a substantial proportion of HCC contributing to tumor progression and resistance to chemotherapy, suggesting that WT1 may be an important target for HCC treatment.