M2-like tumor-associated macrophage-related biomarkers to construct a novel prognostic signature, reveal the immune landscape, and screen drugs in hepatocellular carcinoma

Front Immunol. 2022 Sep 13;13:994019. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.994019. eCollection 2022.


Background: M2-like tumor-associated macrophages (M2-like TAMs) have important roles in the progression and therapeutics of cancers. We aimed to detect novel M2-like TAM-related biomarkers in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) via integrative analysis of single-cell RNA-seq (scRNA-seq) and bulk RNA-seq data to construct a novel prognostic signature, reveal the "immune landscape", and screen drugs in HCC.

Methods: M2-like TAM-related genes were obtained by overlapping the marker genes of TAM identified from scRNA-seq data and M2 macrophage modular genes identified by weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) using bulk RNA-seq data. Univariate Cox regression and least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) regression analyses were carried out to screen prognostic genes from M2-like TAM-related genes, followed by a construction of a prognostic signature, delineation of risk groups, and external validation of the prognostic signature. Analyses of immune cells, immune function, immune evasion scores, and immune-checkpoint genes between high- and low-risk groups were done to further reveal the immune landscape of HCC patients. To screen potential HCC therapeutic agents, analyses of gene-drug correlation and sensitivity to anti-cancer drugs were conducted.

Results: A total of 127 M2-like TAM-related genes were identified by integrative analysis of scRNA-seq and bulk-seq data. PDLIM3, PAM, PDLIM7, FSCN1, DPYSL2, ARID5B, LGALS3, and KLF2 were screened as prognostic genes in HCC by univariate Cox regression and LASSO regression analyses. Then, a prognostic signature was constructed and validated based on those genes for predicting the survival of HCC patients. In terms of drug screening, expression of PAM and LGALS3 was correlated positively with sensitivity to simvastatin and ARRY-162, respectively. Based on risk grouping, we predicted 10 anticancer drugs with high sensitivity in the high-risk group, with epothilone B having the lowest half-maximal inhibitory concentration among all drugs tested.

Conclusions: Our findings enhance understanding of the M2-like TAM-related molecular mechanisms involved in HCC, reveal the immune landscape of HCC, and provide potential targets for HCC treatment.

Keywords: drug screening; hepatocellular carcinoma; immune landscape; prognostic signature; tumor-associated macrophages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / metabolism
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Galectin 3 / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • Simvastatin
  • Tumor-Associated Macrophages


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carrier Proteins
  • FSCN1 protein, human
  • Galectin 3
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • Simvastatin