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Loss of exon 4 in a human T-cell factor-4 isoform promotes hepatic tumourigenicity



Miran Kim, PhD, Liver Research Center, 55 Claverick Street, 4th Floor, Providence, RI 02903, USA

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T-cell factor (TCF) proteins represent key transcription factors that activate Wnt/β-catenin signalling. We have reported that a pair of TCF-4 isoforms (TCF-4C and TCF-4D) exhibit differential TCF transcriptional activity in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells, although their structure differs by only the presence (TCF-4D) or absence (TCF-4C) of exon 4.


To demonstrate a regulatory role of exon 4 in HCC development.


TCF-4C and TCF-4D expression profiles were examined in 27 pairs of human HCC and adjacent liver tissues. The functional role of the TCF-4 isoforms was evaluated in OUMS-29 (an immortalized hepatocyte-derived) and HAK-1A (a well-differentiated HCC) cell lines using stable clones overexpressing the TCF-4 isoforms.


TCF-4C was significantly upregulated in HCC tissues compared with corresponding peritumour and normal liver tissues; in contrast, there was no difference in TCF-4D expression. TCF-4C clones derived from both cell lines exhibited increased TCF activity, Wnt-responsive target genes, cell proliferation, cell cycle progression and resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs compared with TCF-4D clones. Capability of cell migration and colony formation was significantly higher in TCF-4C than TCF-4D clones. In a nude mice xenograft model, the HAK-1A-derived TCF-4C clone rapidly developed tumours compared with the TCF-4D clone. TCF-4C clone-derived tumours exhibited upregulation of Wnt-responsive target genes compared with the slow developing and small TCF-4D-derived tumours.


These results demonstrate that the TCF-4C isoform lacking exon 4 is associated with a malignant phenotype compared with the exon 4-harbouring TCF-4D isoform, indicating that exon 4 of TCF-4 plays a prominent role in HCC development.