Cellular oxidative stress plays a key role in the development and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). A better understanding of the processes that regulate reactive oxygen species (ROS) homeostasis could uncover improved strategies for treating HCC. Here, we identified WNK1 as an antioxidative factor and therapeutic target in HCC. In human HCC, WNK1 expression was increased and correlated with poor patient prognosis. WNK1 knockdown significantly inhibited cell proliferation and xenograft tumor growth. Mechanistically, WNK1 competed with NRF2 for binding to the partial Kelch domain of KEAP1, reducing NRF2 ubiquitination and promoting NRF2 accumulation and nuclear translocation to increase antioxidant response. WNK1 silencing increased H2O2-induced apoptosis and inhibited cell growth by elevating reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels, which could be rescued by treatment with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and NRF2 activator tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ). Liver-specific WNK1 knockout mouse models of HCC substantiated that WNK1 promoted HCC development by regulating ROS levels. WNK463, an inhibitor of the WNK kinase family, suppressed HCC progression and altered the redox status. These findings suggest that WNK1 plays a critical role in HCC development and progression and that the WNK1-oxidative stress axis may be a promising therapeutic target for HCC.

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