The mRNA expression of the dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4) gene family is highly upregulated in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and is associated with poor survival in HCC patients. Compounds that inhibit the DPP4 enzyme family, such as talabostat and ARI-4175, can mediate tumour regression by immune-mediated mechanisms that are believed to include NLRP1 activation. This study investigated the expression and activity of the DPP4 family during the development of HCC and evaluated the efficacy of ARI-4175 in the treatment of early HCC in mice. This first report on this enzyme family in HCC-bearing mice showed DPP9 upregulation in HCC, whereas intrahepatic DPP8/9 and DPP4 enzyme activity levels decreased with age. We demonstrated that ARI-4175 significantly lowered the total number of macroscopic liver nodules in these mice. In addition, ARI-4175 increased intrahepatic inflammatory cell infiltration, including CD8+ T cell numbers, into the HCC-bearing livers. Furthermore, ARI-4175 activated a critical component of the inflammasome pathway, caspase-1, in these HCC-bearing livers. This is the first evidence of caspase-1 activation by a pan-DPP inhibitor in the liver. Our data suggest that targeting the DPP4 enzyme family may be a novel and effective approach to promote anti-tumour immunity in HCC via caspase-1 activation.
Keywords: ARI-4175; DPP4; HCC; caspase-1; pan-DPP inhibitor.