We employed scRNA sequencing to extensively characterize the cellular landscape of human liver from development to disease. Analysis of ∼212,000 cells representing human fetal, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and mouse liver revealed remarkable fetal-like reprogramming of the tumor microenvironment. Specifically, the HCC ecosystem displayed features reminiscent of fetal development, including re-emergence of fetal-associated endothelial cells (PLVAP/VEGFR2) and fetal-like (FOLR2) tumor-associated macrophages. In a cross-species comparative analysis, we discovered remarkable similarity between mouse embryonic, fetal-liver, and tumor macrophages. Spatial transcriptomics further revealed a shared onco-fetal ecosystem between fetal liver and HCC. Furthermore, gene regulatory analysis, spatial transcriptomics, and in vitro functional assays implicated VEGF and NOTCH signaling in maintaining onco-fetal ecosystem. Taken together, we report a shared immunosuppressive onco-fetal ecosystem in fetal liver and HCC. Our results unravel a previously unexplored onco-fetal reprogramming of the tumor ecosystem, provide novel targets for therapeutic interventions in HCC, and open avenues for identifying similar paradigms in other cancers and disease.
Keywords: FOLR2; HCC; Hepatocellular carcinoma; NOTCH; PLVAP; TAMs; endothelial cells; onco-fetal reprogramming; scRNA-seq; tumor associated macrophages; tumor microenvironment.
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