Aberrant activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling plays a key role in the onset and development of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC), with about half of them acquiring mutations in either CTNNB1 or AXIN1. The serine/threonine kinase receptor-associated protein (STRAP), a scaffold protein, was recently shown to facilitate the aberrant activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in colorectal cancers. However, the function of STRAP in HCC remains completely unknown. Here, increased levels of STRAP were observed in human and mouse HCCs. RNA sequencing of STRAP knockout clones generated by gene editing of Huh6 and Huh7 HCC cells revealed a significant reduction in expression of various metabolic and cell-cycle-related transcripts, in line with their general slower growth observed during culture. Importantly, Wnt/β-catenin signaling was impaired in all STRAP knockout/down cell lines tested, regardless of the underlying CTNNB1 or AXIN1 mutation. In accordance with β-catenin's role in (cancer) stem cell maintenance, the expressions of various stem cell markers, such as AXIN2 and LGR5, were reduced and concomitantly differentiation-associated genes were increased. Together, these results show that the increased STRAP protein levels observed in HCC provide growth advantage among others by enhancing Wnt/β-catenin signaling. These observations also identify STRAP as a new player in regulating β-catenin signaling in hepatocellular cancers. IMPLICATIONS: Elevated STRAP levels in hepatocellular cancers provide a growth advantage by enhancing Wnt/β-catenin signaling.
©2018 American Association for Cancer Research.