Human liver cancer is one of the deadliest cancers worldwide, with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) being the most common type. Aberrant Ras signaling has been implicated in the development and progression of human HCC, but a complete understanding of the molecular mechanisms of this protein in hepatocarcinogenesis remains elusive. In this study, a stable in vivo liver cancer model using transgenic zebrafish was generated to elucidate Ras-driven tumorigenesis in HCC. Using the liver-specific fabp10 (fatty acid binding protein 10) promoter, we overexpressed oncogenic krasV12 specifically in the transgenic zebrafish liver. Only a high level of krasV12 expression initiated liver tumorigenesis, which progressed from hyperplasia to benign and malignant tumors with activation of the Ras-Raf-MEK-ERK and Wnt–β-catenin pathways. Histological diagnosis of zebrafish tumors identified HCC as the main lesion. The tumors were invasive and transplantable, indicating malignancy of these HCC cells. Oncogenic krasV12 was also found to trigger p53-dependent senescence as a tumor suppressive barrier in the pre-neoplastic stage. Microarray analysis of zebrafish liver hyperplasia and HCC uncovered the deregulation of several stage-specific and common biological processes and signaling pathways responsible for krasV12-driven liver tumorigenesis that recapitulated the molecular hallmarks of human liver cancer. Cross-species comparisons of cancer transcriptomes further defined a HCC-specific gene signature as well as a liver cancer progression gene signature that are evolutionarily conserved between human and zebrafish. Collectively, our study presents a comprehensive portrait of molecular mechanisms during progressive Ras-induced HCC. These observations indicate the validity of our transgenic zebrafish to model human liver cancer, and this model might act as a useful platform for drug screening and identifying new therapeutic targets.
- Received March 1, 2011.
- Accepted May 18, 2011.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly cited and all further distributions of the work or adaptation are subject to the same Creative Commons License terms