Cellular heterogeneity and transcriptomic profiles during intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma initiation and progression

Hepatology. 2022 Nov;76(5):1302-1317. doi: 10.1002/hep.32483. Epub 2022 Apr 24.


Background and aims: Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC) is not fully investigated, and how stromal cells contribute to ICC formation is poorly understood. We aimed to uncover ICC origin, cellular heterogeneity, and critical modulators during ICC initiation/progression, and to decipher how fibroblast and endothelial cells in the stromal compartment favor ICC progression.

Approach and results: We performed single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) using AKT/Notch intracellular domain-induced mouse ICC tissues at early, middle, and late stages. We analyzed the transcriptomic landscape, cellular classification and evolution, and intercellular communication during ICC initiation/progression. We confirmed the findings using quantitative real-time PCR, western blotting, immunohistochemistry or immunofluorescence, and gene knockout/knockdown analysis. We identified stress-responding and proliferating subpopulations in late-stage mouse ICC tissues and validated them using human scRNA-seq data sets. By integrating weighted correlation network analysis and protein-protein interaction through least absolute shrinkage and selection operator regression, we identified zinc finger, MIZ-type containing 1 (Zmiz1) and Y box protein 1 (Ybx1) as core transcription factors required by stress-responding and proliferating ICC cells, respectively. Knockout of either one led to the blockade of ICC initiation/progression. Using two other ICC mouse models (YAP/AKT, KRAS/p19) and human ICC scRNA-seq data sets, we confirmed the orchestrating roles of Zmiz1 and Ybx1 in ICC occurrence and development. In addition, hes family bHLH transcription factor 1, cofilin 1, and inhibitor of DNA binding 1 were identified as driver genes for ICC. Moreover, periportal liver sinusoidal endothelial cells could differentiate into tip endothelial cells to promote ICC development, and this was Dll4-Notch4-Efnb2 signaling-dependent.

Conclusions: Stress-responding and ICC proliferating subtypes were identified, and Zmiz1 and Ybx1 were revealed as core transcription factors in these subtypes. Fibroblast-endothelial cell interaction promotes ICC development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cholangiocarcinoma* / pathology
  • Cofilin 1 / genetics
  • Cofilin 1 / metabolism
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / genetics
  • Transcriptome
  • Y-Box-Binding Protein 1 / metabolism


  • Cofilin 1
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Y-Box-Binding Protein 1
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • DNA