DKK1-CKAP4 signal axis promotes hepatocellular carcinoma aggressiveness

Cancer Sci. 2023 May;114(5):2063-2077. doi: 10.1111/cas.15743. Epub 2023 Mar 9.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most prevalent malignant liver neoplasm. Despite the advances in diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis of HCC patients remains poor. Cytoskeleton-associated membrane protein 4 (CKAP4) is a receptor of the glycosylated secretory protein Dickkopf-1 (DKK1), and the DKK1-CKAP4 axis is activated in pancreatic, lung, and esophageal cancer cells. Expression of DKK1 and CKAP4 has been examined in HCC in independent studies that yielded contradictory results. In this study, the relationship between the DKK1-CKAP4 axis and HCC was comprehensively examined. In 412 HCC cases, patients whose tumors were positive for both DKK1 and CKAP4 had a poor prognosis compared to those who were positive for only one of these markers or negative for both. Deletion of either DKK1 or CKAP4 inhibited HCC cell growth. In contrast to WT DKK1, DKK1 lacking the CKAP4 binding region did not rescue the phenotypes caused by DKK1 depletion, suggesting that binding of DKK1 to CKAP4 is required for HCC cell proliferation. Anti-CKAP4 Ab inhibited HCC growth, and its antitumor effect was clearly enhanced when combined with lenvatinib, a multikinase inhibitor. These results indicate that simultaneous expression of DKK1 and CKAP4 is involved in the aggressiveness of HCC, and that the combination of anti-CKAP4 Ab and other therapeutics including lenvatinib could represent a promising strategy for treating advanced HCC.

Keywords: CKAP4; DKK1; HCC; combination drug therapy; lenvatinib.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / genetics
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics


  • Membrane Proteins
  • lenvatinib
  • DKK1 protein, human
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins

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