Background and aims: Succinate dehydrogenase enzyme (SDH) is frequently diminished in samples from patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and SDH reduction is associated with elevated succinate level and poor prognosis in patients with HCC. However, the underlying mechanisms of how impaired SDH activity promotes HCC remain unclear.
Approach and results: In this study, we observed remarkable downregulations of SDH subunits A and B (SDHA/B) in chronic liver injury-induced murine HCC models and patient samples. Subsequent RNA sequencing, hematoxylin and eosin staining, and immunohistochemistry analyses of HCC samples revealed that Yes-associated protein (YAP) and transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif (TAZ) were significantly upregulated in HCC, with their levels inversely correlating with that of SDHA/B. YAP/TAZ stability was greatly enhanced in SDHA/B-depleted HCC cells along with accumulation of succinate. Further mechanistic analyses demonstrated that impaired activity of SDHA/B resulted in succinate accumulation, which facilitated the deNEDDylation of cullin1 and therefore disrupted the E3 ubiquitin ligase SCF β-TrCP complex, consequently leading to YAP/TAZ stabilization and activation in HCC cells. The accelerated in vitro cell proliferation and in vivo tumor growth caused by SDHA/B reduction or succinate exposure were largely dependent on the aberrant activation of YAP/TAZ.
Conclusions: Our study demonstrated that SDHA/B reduction promotes HCC proliferation by preventing the proteasomal degradation of YAP/TAZ through modulating cullin1 NEDDylation, thus binding SDH-deficient HCC cells to YAP/TAZ pathway and rendering these cells vulnerable to YAP/TAZ inhibition. Our findings warrant further investigation on the therapeutic effects of targeting YAP/TAZ in patients with HCC displaying reduced SDHA/B or elevated succinate levels.
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