Objective Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has high intratumoral heterogeneity, which contributes to therapeutic resistance and tumour recurrence. We previously identified Prominin-1 (PROM1)/CD133 as an important liver cancer stem cell (CSC) marker in human HCC. The aim of this study was to investigate the heterogeneity and properties of Prom1+ cells in HCC in intact mouse models.
Design We established two mouse models representing chronic fibrotic HCC and rapid steatosis-related HCC. We performed lineage tracing post-HCC induction using Prom1C-L/+; Rosa26tdTomato/+ mice, and targeted depletion using Prom1C-L/+; Rosa26DTA/+ mice. Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) was carried out to analyse the transcriptomic profile of traced Prom1+ cells.
Results Prom1 in HCC tumours marks proliferative tumour-propagating cells with CSC-like properties. Lineage tracing demonstrated that these cells display clonal expansion in situ in primary tumours. Labelled Prom1+ cells exhibit increasing tumourigenicity in 3D culture and allotransplantation, as well as potential to form cancers of differential lineages on transplantation. Depletion of Prom1+ cells impedes tumour growth and reduces malignant cancer hallmarks in both HCC models. scRNA-seq analysis highlighted the heterogeneity of Prom1+ HCC cells, which follow a trajectory to the dedifferentiated status with high proliferation and stem cells traits. Conserved gene signature of Prom1 linage predicts poor prognosis in human HCC. The activated oxidant detoxification underlies the protective mechanism of dedifferentiated transition and lineage propagation.
Conclusion Our study combines in vivo lineage tracing and scRNA-seq to reveal the heterogeneity and dynamics of Prom1+ HCC cells, providing insights into the mechanistic role of malignant CSC-like cells in HCC progression.
- hepatocellular carcinoma
- stem cells
Data availability statement
Data is available on GEO (GSE181515).
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LZ, KHY and TLW contributed equally.
Correction notice This article has been corrected since it published Online First. A second corresponding author has been added.
Contributors LZ and SM conceived the project, designed the experiments and wrote the manuscript. LZ performed the majority of the experiments including mouse model establishment and characterisation, cell culture, sequencing and data analysis. LZ, KHY and TLW analysed the single-cell sequencing data and provided critical scientific input. TLW helped with manuscript editing. ZZ, CHC, JHL, NC, HJY and MT aided in animal experiments. KVT performed MRI scanning. ESN and JWH provided guidance in single cell sequencing analysis and manuscript editing. SM, JWH and LZ provided funding support. SM and JWH supervised the project.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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