Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF) are a poorly characterized cell population in the context of liver cancer. Our study investigates CAF functions in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC), a highly desmoplastic liver tumor. Genetic tracing, single-cell RNA sequencing, and ligand-receptor analyses uncovered hepatic stellate cells (HSC) as the main source of CAF and HSC-derived CAF as the dominant population interacting with tumor cells. In mice, CAF promotes ICC progression, as revealed by HSC-selective CAF depletion. In patients, a high panCAF signature is associated with decreased survival and increased recurrence. Single-cell RNA sequencing segregates CAF into inflammatory and growth factor-enriched (iCAF) and myofibroblastic (myCAF) subpopulations, displaying distinct ligand-receptor interactions. myCAF-expressed hyaluronan synthase 2, but not type I collagen, promotes ICC. iCAF-expressed hepatocyte growth factor enhances ICC growth via tumor-expressed MET, thus directly linking CAF to tumor cells. In summary, our data demonstrate promotion of desmoplastic ICC growth by therapeutically targetable CAF subtype-specific mediators, but not by type I collagen.
Keywords: CellPhoneDB; HGF; KRAS; YAP; cholangiocarcinoma; immune; mechanosensitive; single cell; stiffness; tumor microenvironment.
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