Transcriptomic profiling reveals hepatic stem-like gene signatures and interplay of miR-200c and epithelial-mesenchymal transition in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • Supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the center for Cancer Research, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (Z01 BC 010313 and Z01 BC 010876).


Intrahepatic cholangiocellular carcinoma (ICC) is the second most common type of primary liver cancer. However, its tumor heterogeneity and molecular characteristics are largely unknown. In this study, we conducted transcriptomic profiling of 23 ICC and combined hepatocellular cholangiocarcinoma tumor specimens from Asian patients using Affymetrix messenger RNA (mRNA) and NanoString microRNA microarrays to search for unique gene signatures linked to tumor subtypes and patient prognosis. We validated the signatures in an additional 68 ICC cases derived from Caucasian patients. We found that both mRNA and microRNA expression profiles could independently classify Asian ICC cases into two main subgroups, one of which shared gene expression signatures with previously identified hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with stem cell gene expression traits. ICC-specific gene signatures could predict survival in Asian HCC cases and independently in Caucasian ICC cases. Integrative analyses of the ICC-specific mRNA and microRNA expression profiles revealed that a common signaling pathway linking miR-200c signaling to epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) was preferentially activated in ICC with stem cell gene expression traits. Inactivation of miR-200c resulted in an induction of EMT, whereas activation of miR-200c led to a reduction of EMT including a reduced cell migration and invasion in ICC cells. We also found that miR-200c and neural cell adhesion molecule 1 (NCAM1) expression were negatively correlated and their expression levels were predictive of survival in ICC samples. NCAM1, a known hepatic stem/progenitor cell marker, was experimentally demonstrated to be a direct target of miR-200c. Conclusion: Our results indicate that ICC and HCC share common stem-like molecular characteristics and poor prognosis. We suggest that the specific components of EMT may be exploited as critical biomarkers and clinically relevant therapeutic targets for an aggressive form of stem cell-like ICC. (HEPATOLOGY 2012;56:1792–1803)