Ph.D., Michigan State University
With the increasing incidence and mortality of human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) worldwide, revealing innovative targets to improve therapeutic strategies is crucial for prolonging the lives of patients. To identify innovative targets, we conducted a comprehensive comparative transcriptome analysis of 5,410 human HCCs and 974 mouse liver cancers to identify concordantly expressed genes associated with patient survival. Among the 664 identified prognostic comparative HCC (pcHCC) genes, upregulated pcHCC genes were associated with prognostic clinical features, including large tumor size, vascular invasion and late HCC stages. Interestingly, after validating HCC patient prognoses in multiple independent datasets, we matched the 664 aberrant pcHCC genes with the sorafenib-altered genes in TCGA_LIHC patients and found these 664 pcHCC genes were enriched in sorafenib-related functions, such as downregulated xenobiotic and lipid metabolism and upregulated cell proliferation. Therapeutic agents targeting aberrant pcHCC genes presented divergent molecular mechanisms, including suppression of sorafenib-unrelated oncogenic pathways, induction of sorafenib-unrelated ferroptosis, and modulation of sorafenib transportation and metabolism, to potentiate sorafenib therapeutic effects in HCC combination therapy. Moreover, the pcHCC genes NCAPG and CENPW, which have not been targeted in combination with sorafenib treatment, were knocked down and combined with sorafenib treatment, which reduced HCC cell viability based on disruption to the p38/STAT3 axis, thereby hypersensitizing HCC cells. Together, our results provide important resources and reveal that 664 pcHCC genes represent innovative targets suitable for developing therapeutic strategies in combination with sorafenib based on the divergent synergistic mechanisms for HCC tumor suppression.