CRISPR/Cas9 Engineering of Adult Mouse Liver Demonstrates That the Dnajb1–Prkaca Gene Fusion Is Sufficient to Induce Tumors Resembling Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma

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Lars H. Engelholm, Anjum Riaz, Denise Serra, Frederik Dagnæs-Hansen, Jens V. Johansen, Eric Santoni-Rugiu, Steen H. Hansen, Francesco Niola, Morten Frödin

Background & Aims Fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma (FL-HCC) is a primary liver cancer that predominantly affects children and young adults with no underlying liver disease. A somatic, 400 Kb deletion on chromosome 19 that fuses part of the DnaJ heat shock protein family (Hsp40) member B1 gene (DNAJB1) to the protein kinase cAMP-activated catalytic subunit alpha gene (PRKACA) has been repeatedly identified in patients with FL-HCC. However, the DNAJB1–PRKACA gene fusion has not been shown to induce liver tumorigenesis. We used the CRISPR/Cas9 technique to delete in mice the syntenic region on chromosome 8 to create a Dnajb1–Prkaca fusion and monitored the mice for liver tumor development. Methods We delivered CRISPR/Cas9 vectors designed to juxtapose exon 1 of Dnajb1 with exon 2 of Prkaca to create the Dnajb1–Prkaca gene fusion associated with FL-HCC, or control Cas9 vector, via hydrodynamic tail vein injection to livers of 8-week-old female FVB/N mice. These mice did not have any other engineered genetic alterations and were not exposed to liver toxins or carcinogens. Liver tissues were collected 14 months after delivery; genomic DNA was analyzed by PCR to detect the Dnajb1–Prkaca fusion, and tissues were characterized by histology, immunohistochemistry, RNA sequencing, and whole-exome sequencing. Results Livers from 12 of the 15 mice given the vectors to induce the Dnajb1–Prkaca gene fusion, but none of the 11 mice given the control vector, developed neoplasms. The tumors contained the Dnajb1–Prkaca gene fusion and had histologic and cytologic features of human FL-HCCs: large polygonal cells with granular, eosinophilic, and mitochondria-rich cytoplasm, prominent nucleoli, and markers of hepatocytes and cholangiocytes. In comparing expression levels of genes between the mouse tumor and non-tumor liver cells, we identified changes similar to those detected in human FL-HCC, which included genes that affect cell cycle and mitosis regulation. Genomic analysis of mouse neoplasms induced by the Dnajb1–Prkaca fusion revealed a lack of mutations in genes commonly associated with liver cancers, as observed in human FL-HCC. Conclusions Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, we found generation of the Dnajb1–Prkaca fusion gene in wild-type mice to be sufficient to initiate formation of tumors that have many features of human FL-HCC. Strategies to block DNAJB1–PRKACA might be developed as therapeutics for this form of liver cancer.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGastroenterology
Volume153
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1662-1673.e10
ISSN0016-5085
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

    Research areas

  • Genomic Engineering, Liver Cancer, Mouse Model, PKA, Protein Kinase A

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