Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a highly lethal cancer that has a high rate of recurrence, in part because of cancer stem cell (CSC)-dependent field cancerization. Acyclic retinoid (ACR) is a synthetic vitamin A-like compound capable of preventing the recurrence of HCC. Here, we performed a genome-wide transcriptome screen and showed that ACR selectively suppressed the expression of MYCN, a member of the MYC family of basic helix-loop-helix-zipper transcription factors, in HCC cell cultures, animal models, and liver biopsies obtained from HCC patients. MYCN expression in human HCC was correlated positively with both CSC and Wnt/β-catenin signaling markers but negatively with mature hepatocyte markers. Functional analysis showed repressed cell-cycle progression, proliferation, and colony formation, activated caspase-8, and induced cell death in HCC cells following silencing of MYCN expression. High-content single-cell imaging analysis and flow cytometric analysis identified a MYCN+ CSC subpopulation in the heterogeneous HCC cell cultures and showed that these cells were selectively killed by ACR. Particularly, EpCAM+ cells isolated using a cell-sorting system showed increased MYCN expression and sensitivity to ACR compared with EpCAM- cells. In a long-term (>10 y) follow-up study of 102 patients with HCC, MYCN was expressed at higher levels in the HCC tumor region than in nontumor regions, and there was a positive correlation between MYCN expression and recurrence of de novo HCC but not metastatic HCC after curative treatment. In summary, these results suggest that MYCN serves as a prognostic biomarker and therapeutic target of ACR for liver CSCs in de novo HCC.
Keywords: MYCN; acyclic retinoid; cancer stem cell; hepatocellular carcinoma; transcriptome.
Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.