Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the main type of liver cancer in human, is one of the most prevalent and deadly malignancies in the world. Despite advances in therapy, prognosis remains dismal, largely attributed by our limited understanding on information related to the progressive development of the disease, particularly in their cancer-initiating and stem cell-like properties. Wnt/β-catenin signaling is activated in CD133 liver cancer stem cells (CSC), a subset of cells known to be a root of tumor recurrence and therapy resistance in HCC. However, the regulatory mechanism of this pathway in CSCs remains unclear. Here, we show that human miRNA, miR-1246, promotes cancer stemness including self-renewal, drug resistance, tumorigencity and metastasis by activation of Wnt/β-catenin pathway via suppressing the expression of AXIN2 and GSK3β, two key members of the β-catenin destruction complex. This observation was validated by both in vitro and in vivo functional / cell biological studies on HCC cell lines with or without miR-1246 expression modulated by lentiviral based knockdown and overexpression strategies as well as in miR-1246 repressed HCC cells with concomitant expression of wild-type or constitutively active β-catenin. Clinically, high endogenous and circulating miR-1246 was identified in HCC clinical samples and correlated with a worse prognosis. Further functional analysis identified Oct4 to be the direct upstream regulator of miR-1246, which cooperatively drive β-catenin activation in liver CSCs. In conclusion, our findings not only uncover the non-canonical regulation of Wnt/β-catenin in liver CSCs by Oct4/miR-1246 signaling axis, but also provide a novel diagnostic marker as well as therapeutic intervention for HCC.

Citation Format: Stella Chai, Kai-Yu Ng, Man Tong, Eunice Y. Lau, Terence K. Lee, Kwok Wah Chan, Yun Fei Yuan, Tan To Cheung, Siu Tim Cheung, Xiao Qi Wang, Nathalie Wong, Chung Mau Lo, Kwan Man, Xin Yuan Guan, Stephanie K. Ma. Octamer-4/microRNA-1246 signaling axis drives Wnt/β-catenin activation in liver cancer stem cells [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 2895. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-2895