Differentiation therapy of hepatocellular carcinoma in mice with recombinant adenovirus carrying hepatocyte nuclear factor-4α gene


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Previous studies have shown that hepatocyte nuclear factor-4α (HNF4α) is a central regulator of differentiated hepatocyte phenotype and forced expression of HNF4α could promote reversion of tumors toward a less invasive phenotype. However, the effect of HNF4α on cancer stem cells (CSCs) and the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with HNF4α have not been reported. In this study, an adenovirus-mediated gene delivery system, which could efficiently transfer and express HNF4α, was generated to determine its effect on hepatoma cells (Hep3B and HepG2) in vitro and investigate the anti-tumor effect of HNF4α in mice. Our results demonstrated that forced re-expression of HNF4α induced the differentiation of hepatoma cells into hepatocytes, dramatically decreased “stemness” gene expression and the percentage of CD133+ and CD90+ cells, which are considered as cancer stem cells in HCC. Meanwhile, HNF4α reduced cell viability through inducing apparent apoptosis in Hep3B, while it induced cell cycle arrest and cellular senescence in HepG2. Moreover, infection of hepatoma cells by HNF4α abolished their tumorigenesis in mice. Most interestingly, systemic administration of adenovirus carrying the HNF4α gene protected mice from liver metastatic tumor formation, and intratumoral injection of HNF4α also displayed significant antitumor effects on transplanted tumor models. Conclusion: The striking suppression effect of HNF4α on tumorigenesis and tumor development is attained by inducing the differentiation of hepatoma cells—especially CSCs—into mature hepatocytes, suggesting that differentiation therapy with HNF4α may be an effective treatment for HCC patients. Our study also implies that differentiation therapy may present as one of the best strategies for cancer treatment through the induction of cell differentiation by key transcription factors. (HEPATOLOGY 2008.)