A TNFR2-hnRNPK Axis Promotes Primary Liver Cancer Development via Activation of YAP Signaling in Hepatic Progenitor Cells

Cancer Res. 2021 Jun 1;81(11):3036-3050. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-3175. Epub 2021 Feb 22.


Most primary liver cancer (PLC) cases progress mainly due to underlying chronic liver inflammation, yet the underlying mechanisms of inflammation-mediated PLC remain unclear. Here we uncover a TNF receptor II (TNFR2)-hnRNPK-YAP signaling axis in hepatic progenitor cells (HPC) essential for PLC development. TNFR2, but not TNF receptor I (TNFR1), was required for TNFα-induced activation of YAP during malignant transformation of HPCs and liver tumorigenesis. Mechanistically, heterogeneous nuclear ribonuclear protein K (hnRNPK) acted downstream of TNFα-TNFR2 signaling to directly interact with and stabilize YAP on target gene promoters genome-wide, therefore coregulating the expression of YAP target genes. Single-cell RNA sequencing confirmed the association of TNFR2-hnRNPK with YAP expression and the pathologic importance of HPC. Accordingly, expressions of TNFR2, hnRNPK, and YAP were all upregulated in PLC tissues and were strongly associated with poor prognosis of PLC including patient survival. Collectively, this study clarifies the differential roles of TNFRs in HPC-mediated tumorigenesis, uncovering a TNFR2-hnRNPK-centered mechanistic link between the TNFα-mediated inflammatory milieu and YAP activation in HPCs during PLC development. SIGNIFICANCE: This work defines how hnRNPK links TNFα signaling and Hippo pathway transcription coactivator YAP in hepatic progenitor cells during primary liver tumorigenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein K / genetics
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein K / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Prognosis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type II / genetics
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type II / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein K
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type II
  • TNF protein, human
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • YY1AP1 protein, human
  • HNRNPK protein, human