Spatial characterisation of β-catenin-mutated hepatocellular adenoma subtypes by proteomic profiling of the tumour rim

JHEP Rep. 2023 Sep 22;6(2):100913. doi: 10.1016/j.jhepr.2023.100913. eCollection 2024 Feb.


Background & aims: Hepatocellular adenomas (HCAs) are rare, benign, liver tumours classified at the clinicopathological, genetic, and proteomic levels. The β-catenin-activated (b-HCA) subtypes harbour several mutation types in the β-catenin gene (CTNNB1) associated with different risks of malignant transformation or bleeding. Glutamine synthetase is a surrogate marker of β-catenin pathway activation associated with the risk of malignant transformation. Recently, we revealed an overexpression of glutamine synthetase in the rims of exon 3 S45-mutated b-HCA and exon 7/8-mutated b-HCA compared with the rest of the tumour. A difference in vascularisation was found in this rim shown by diffuse CD34 staining only at the tumour centre. Here, we aimed to characterise this tumour heterogeneity to better understand its physiopathological involvement.

Methods: Using mass spectrometry imaging, genetic, and proteomic analyses combined with laser capture microdissection, we compared the tumour centre with the tumour rim and with adjacent non-tumoural tissue.

Results: The tumour rim harboured the same mutation as the tumour centre, meaning both parts belong to the same tumour. Mass spectrometry imaging showed different spectral profiles between the rim and the tumour centre. Proteomic profiling revealed the significant differential expression of 40 proteins at the rim compared with the tumour centre. The majority of these proteins were associated with metabolism, with an expression profile comparable with a normal perivenous hepatocyte expression profile.

Conclusions: The difference in phenotype between the tumour centres and tumour rims of exon 3 S45-mutated b-HCA and exon 7/8-mutated b-HCA does not depend on CTNNB1 mutational status. In a context of sinusoidal arterial pathology, tumour heterogeneity at the rim harbours perivenous characteristics and could be caused by a functional peripheral venous drainage.

Impact and implications: Tumour heterogeneity was revealed in β-catenin-mutated hepatocellular adenomas (b-HCAs) via the differential expression of glutamine synthase at tumour rims. The combination of several spatial approaches (mass spectrometry imaging, genetic, and proteomic analyses) after laser capture microdissection allowed identification of a potential role for peripheral venous drainage underlying this difference. Through this study, we were able to illustrate that beyond a mutational context, many factors can downstream regulate gene expression and contribute to different clinicopathological phenotypes. We believe that the combinations of spatial analyses that we used could be inspiring for all researchers wanting to access heterogeneity information of liver tumours.

Keywords: Glutamine synthetase; Hepatocellular adenoma; Proteomic profiling; Tumour heterogeneity; Tumour rim; β-Catenin mutation.