UBR7 inhibits HCC tumorigenesis by targeting Keap1/Nrf2/Bach1/HK2 and glycolysis

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2022 Nov 24;41(1):330. doi: 10.1186/s13046-022-02528-6.


Background: Glycolysis metabolism is an attractive target for cancer therapy. Reprogramming metabolic pathways could improve the ability of metabolic inhibitors to suppress cancers with limited treatment options. The ubiquitin-proteasome system facilitates the turnover of most intracellular proteins with E3 ligase conferring the target selection and specificity. Ubiquitin protein ligase E3 component N-recognin 7 (UBR7), among the least studied E3 ligases, recognizes its substrate through a plant homeodomain (PHD) finger. Here, we bring into focus on its suppressive role in glycolysis and HCC tumorigenesis, dependent on its E3 ubiquitin ligase activity toward monoubiquitination of histone H2B at lysine 120 (H2BK120ub).

Methods: In this study, we carried out high-throughput RNAi screening to identify epigenetic candidates in regulating lactic acid and investigated its possible roles in HCC progression.

Results: UBR7 loss promotes HCC tumorigenesis both in vitro and in vivo. UBR7 inhibits glycolysis by indirectly suppressing HK2 expression, a downstream target of Nrf2/Bach1 axis. Mechanically, UBR7 regulates H2BK120ub to bind to Keap1 promoter through H2BK120ub monoubiquitination, thereby modulating Keap1 expression and downstream Nrf2/Bach1/HK2 signaling. Pharmaceutical and genetic inhibition of glycolytic enzymes attenuate the promoting effect of UBR7 deficiency on tumor growth. In addition, methyltransferase ALKBH5, downregulated in HCC, regulated UBR7 expression in an m6A-dependent manner.

Conclusions: These results collectively establish UBR7 as a critical negative regulator of aerobic glycolysis and HCC tumorigenesis through regulation of the Keap1/Nrf2/Bach1/HK2 axis, providing a potential clinical and therapeutic target for the HCC treatment.

Keywords: Glycolysis; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Keap1-Nrf2-Bach1 signaling; Monoubiquitination; UBR7.

MeSH terms

  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / genetics
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / genetics
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism


  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • KEAP1 protein, human
  • BACH1 protein, human
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors