Mouse Models of Oncoimmunology in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Oct 15;26(20):5276-5286. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-19-2923. Epub 2020 Apr 23.


Liver cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide and incidence is on the rise. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer, with a complex etiology and limited treatment options. The standard-of-care treatment for patients with advanced HCC is sorafenib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that offers limited survival benefit. In the past years, therapeutic options for the treatment of advanced HCC have increased substantially, including additional multikinase inhibitors as well as immune checkpoint inhibitors. Nivolumab and pembrolizumab were approved in 2017 and 2018, respectively, as second-line treatment in advanced HCC. These drugs, both targeting the programmed death-1 pathway, demonstrate unprecedented results, with objective response rates of approximately 20%. However, the majority of patients do not respond, necessitating the identification of biomarkers of response and resistance to immunotherapy. With the recent success of immunotherapies in oncology, mouse models that better recapitulate the human disease and antitumor immune response are needed. This review lists ongoing clinical trials testing immunotherapy in HCC, briefly discusses the unique immunosuppressive environment of the liver, and then delves into the most applicable current murine model systems to study oncoimmunology within the context of HCC, including syngeneic, genetically engineered, and humanized models.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / immunology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / immunology
  • Mice
  • Nivolumab / therapeutic use
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Sorafenib / therapeutic use


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Nivolumab
  • Sorafenib
  • pembrolizumab