Ras/MAPK signalling intensity defines subclonal fitness in a mouse model of hepatocellular carcinoma.


Quantitative differences in signal transduction are to date an understudied feature of tumour heterogeneity. The MAPK Erk pathway, which is activated in a large proportion of human tumours, is a prototypic example of distinct cell fates being driven by signal intensity. We have used primary hepatocyte precursors transformed with different dosages of an oncogenic form of Ras to model subclonal variations in MAPK signalling. Orthotopic allografts of Ras-transformed cells in immunocompromised mice gave rise to fast-growing aggressive tumours, both at the primary location and in the peritoneal cavity. Fluorescent labelling of cells expressing different oncogene levels, and consequently varying levels of MAPK Erk activation, highlighted the selection processes operating at the two sites of tumour growth. Indeed, significantly higher Ras expression was observed in primary as compared to secondary, metastatic sites, despite the apparent evolutionary trade-off of increased apoptotic death in the liver that correlated with high Ras dosage. Analysis of the immune tumour microenvironment at the two locations suggests that fast peritoneal tumour growth in the immunocompromised setting is abrogated in immunocompetent animals due to efficient antigen presentation by peritoneal dendritic cells. Furthermore, our data indicate that, in contrast to the metastatic-like outgrowth, strong MAPK signalling is required in the primary liver tumours to resist elimination by NK (natural killer) cells. Overall, this study describes a quantitative aspect of tumour heterogeneity and points to a potential vulnerability of a subtype of hepatocellular carcinoma as a function of MAPK Erk signalling intensity.

More about this publication

  • Volume 12
  • Publication date 19-01-2023

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