A recent gene expression classification of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) includes a poor survival subclass termed S2 representing about one-third of all HCC in clinical series. S2 cells express E-cadherin and c-myc and secrete AFP. As the expression of fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs) differs between S2 and non-S2 HCC, this study investigated whether molecular subclasses of HCC predict sensitivity to FGFR inhibition. S2 cell lines were significantly more sensitive (p < 0.001) to the FGFR inhibitors BGJ398 and AZD4547. BGJ398 decreased MAPK signaling in S2 but not in non-S2 cell lines. All cell lines expressed FGFR1 and FGFR2, but only S2 cell lines expressed FGFR3 and FGFR4. FGFR4 siRNA decreased proliferation by 44% or more in all five S2 cell lines (p < 0.05 for each cell line), a significantly greater decrease than seen with knockdown of FGFR1-3 with siRNA transfection. FGFR4 knockdown decreased MAPK signaling in S2 cell lines, but little effect was seen with knockdown of FGFR1-3. In conclusion, the S2 molecular subclass of HCC is sensitive to FGFR inhibition. FGFR4-MAPK signaling plays an important role in driving proliferation of a molecular subclass of HCC. This classification system may help to identify those patients who are most likely to benefit from inhibition of this pathway. What's new? The incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma is rising in the US possibly because of a rise in obesity and hepatitis C virus infection. Here the authors mined an existing gene expression classification system and identified a subclass of liver tumors with a characteristic expression of fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFR). Anti-proliferative effects were observed after treatment with pan-FGFR inhibitors or siRNAs against FGFR4, pointing to specific FGFR4 inhibitors as a potential treatment for a subset of liver cancer patients in the future.
- liver cancer