Gut flora disequilibrium promotes the initiation of liver cancer by modulating tryptophan metabolism and up-regulating SREBP2

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Dec 27;119(52):e2203894119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2203894119. Epub 2022 Dec 19.


The gut microbiota and liver cancer have a complex interaction. However, the role of gut microbiome in liver tumor initiation remains unknown. Herein, liver cancer was induced using hydrodynamic transfection of oncogenes to explore liver tumorigenesis in mice. Gut microbiota depletion promoted liver tumorigenesis but not progression. Elevated sterol regulatory element-binding protein 2 (SREBP2) was observed in mice with gut flora disequilibrium. Pharmacological inhibition of SREBP2 or Srebf2 RNA interference attenuated mouse liver cancer initiation under gut flora disequilibrium. Furthermore, gut microbiota depletion impaired gut tryptophan metabolism to activate aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). AhR agonist Ficz inhibited SREBP2 posttranslationally and reversed the tumorigenesis in mice. And, AhR knockout mice recapitulated the accelerated liver tumorigenesis. Supplementation with Lactobacillus reuteri, which produces tryptophan metabolites, inhibited SREBP2 expression and tumorigenesis in mice with gut flora disequilibrium. Thus, gut flora disequilibrium promotes liver cancer initiation by modulating tryptophan metabolism and up-regulating SREBP2.

Keywords: AhR; SREBP2; gut microbiota; liver tumorigenesis; tryptophan metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Dysbiosis* / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Liver Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 2* / metabolism
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 2
  • Tryptophan
  • Srebf1 protein, mouse