circHMGCS1-016 reshapes immune environment by sponging miR-1236-3p to regulate CD73 and GAL-8 expression in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2021 Sep 15;40(1):290. doi: 10.1186/s13046-021-02095-2.


Background: Accumulating evidence indicates that circRNAs may serve as essential regulators in the progression of several human cancers, but the function and mechanism of circRNAs in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC) are largely unknown.

Methods: RNA-seq was used to assess differentially expressed circRNAs between 4 ICC and peritumor tissues. Quantitative RT-PCR and in situ hybridization were used to determine the circHMGCS1-016 expression in ICC tissues. The function and mechanism of circHMGCS1-016 were further identified via in vivo experiments. The clinical characteristics and prognostic significance of circHMGCS1-016 were analyzed by a retrospective study. The functions of circHMGCS1-016 were assessed via modifying circRNA expression in ICC cells. Moreover, the molecular mechanisms of circHMGCS1-016 in ICC cells were explored by circRNA precipitation, miRNA immunoprecipitation, SILAC and luciferase reporter assays.

Results: We identified that compared with peritumor tissues, ICC tissues expressed hsa_circ_0008621 (circHMGCS1-016) high by RNA-seq, which was further identified by qRT-PCR and in situ hybridization. Moreover, the expression of circHMGCS1-016 was revealed to be associated with survival and recurrence of ICC patients. By regulating circHMGCS1-016 expression, we found that elevated circHMGCS1-016 promoted ICC development both in vitro and in vivo. By SILAC and circRNA-pull down, we demonstrated that circHMGCS1-016 induced ICC cell invasion and reshaped the tumor immune microenvironment via the miR-1236-3p/CD73 and GAL-8 axis. In ICC tissues, we uncovered that a high level of circHMGCS1-016 was positively associated with CD73 and GAL-8 expression and negatively related to the CD8+ T cells infiltration, which was further validated by establishing a humanized mouse tumor model. Importantly, we displayed that ICC patients with high levels of circHMGCS1-016 in tumor tissues benefited less from anti-PD1 treatment compared to those with low levels of circHMGCS1-016.

Conclusions: CircHMGCS1-016 is a forceful contributor in ICC development and immune tolerance via miR-1236-3p/CD73 and GAL-8 axis. CircHMGCS1-016 can be explored as a new potential biomarker and therapeutic target for PD1-resistant ICC.

Keywords: CD73; GAL-8; Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma; circHMGCS1–016; miR-1236-3p.