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Inducible liver-specific overexpression of gankyrin in zebrafish results in spontaneous intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatocellular carcinoma formation.


Liver cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. As such, establishing animal models of the disease is important for both basic and translational studies that move toward developing new therapies. Gankyrin is a critical oncoprotein in the genetic control of liver pathology. In order to evaluate the oncogenic role of gankyrin without cancer cell inoculation and drug treatment, we overexpressed gankyrin under the control of the fabp10a promoter. A Tet-Off system was used to drive expression in hepatocytes. At seven to twelve months of age, gankyrin transgenic fish spontaneously incurred persistent hepatocyte damage, steatosis, cholestasis, cholangitis, fibrosis and hepatic tumors. The tumors were both hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC). ICC is the second most frequent primary liver cancer in human patients and the first to develop in this tumor model. We further investigated the role of complement C3, a central molecule of the complement system, and found the expression levels of both in mRNA and protein are decreased during tumorigenesis. Together, these findings suggest that gankyrin can promote malignant transformation of liver cells in the context of persistent liver injury. This transformation may be related to compensatory proliferation and the inflammatory microenvironment. The observed decrease in complement C3 may allow transforming cells to escape coordinated induction of the immune response. Herein, we demonstrate an excellent zebrafish model for liver cancers that will be useful for studying the molecular mechanisms of tumorgenesis.