The immunobiology of hepatocellular carcinoma in humans and mice: Basic concepts and therapeutic implications

J Hepatol. 2020 Jan;72(1):167-182. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2019.08.014. Epub 2019 Aug 23.


Basic and clinical studies have demonstrated the efficacy of immunotherapy, a technical and conceptual breakthrough that has revolutionised cancer treatment. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a deadly malignancy with aetiologic diversity and a chronic course, is strongly influenced by the immune system, and was recently found to partially benefit from immune-checkpoint inhibitor therapy. Notably, HCC onco-immunology depends on diverse genetic and environmental factors that together shape cancer-promoting inflammation and immune dysfunction - critical processes that control HCC malignant progression and response to therapy. Herein, we summarise the current understanding of liver and HCC onco-immunology obtained through basic studies with mouse models and clinical practice in humans. In particular, we discuss preclinical and clinical findings that implicate immunomodulation as a major factor in HCC development and explain the basis for HCC-targeting immunotherapy.

Keywords: Genomics; HCC; Immunobiology; Immunotherapy; Microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / methods*
  • Liver / immunology
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Mice
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors