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Tumor stroma and microenvironment have been shown to affect hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) growth, with activated hepatic stellate cells (HSC) as a major contributor in this process. Recent evidence suggests that the energy sensor adenosine monophosphate-activated kinase (AMPK) may mediate a series of essential processes during carcinogenesis and HCC progression. Here, we investigated the effect of different HCC cell lines with known TP53 or CTNBB1 mutations on primary human HSC activation, proliferation, and AMPK activation. We show that conditioned media obtained from multiple HCC cell lines differently modulate human hepatic stellate cell (hHSC) proliferation and hHSC AMPK activity in a paracrine manner. Pharmacological treatment of hHSC with AICAR and Compound C inhibited the HCC-induced proliferation/activation of hHSC through AMPK-dependent and AMPK-independent mechanisms, which was further confirmed using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) deficient of both catalytic AMPKα isoforms (AMPKα1/α2-/-) and wild type (wt) MEF. Both compounds induced S-phase cell-cycle arrest and, in addition, AICAR inhibited the mTORC1 pathway by inhibiting phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 and S6 in hHSC and wt MEF. Data mining of the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the Liver Cancer (LICA-FR) showed that AMPKα1 (PRKAA1) and AMPKα2 (PRKAA2) expression differed depending on the mutation (TP53 or CTNNB1), tumor grading, and G1-G6 classification, reflecting the heterogeneity in human HCC. Overall, we provide evidence that AMPK modulating pharmacological agents negatively modulate HCC-induced hHSC activation and may therefore provide a novel approach to target the mutual, tumor-promoting interactions between hHSC and HCC.NEW & NOTEWORTHY HCC is marked by genetic heterogeneity and activated hepatic stellate cells (HSC) are considered key players during HCC development. The paracrine effect of different HCC cell lines on the activation of primary hHSC was accompanied by differential AMPK activation depending on the HCC line used. Pharmacological treatment inhibited the HCC-induced hHSC activation through AMPK-dependent and AMPK-independent mechanisms. This heterogenic effect on HCC-induced AMPK activation was confirmed by data mining TCGA and LICA-FR databases.


Katrin Böttcher, Lisa Longato, Giusi Marrone, Giuseppe Mazza, Leo Ghemtio, Andrew Hall, Tu Vinh Luong, Stefano Caruso, Benoit Viollet, Jessica Zucman-Rossi, Massimo Pinzani, Krista Rombouts. AICAR and compound C negatively modulate HCC-induced primary human hepatic stellate cell activation in vitro. American journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology. 2021 Apr 01;320(4):G543-G556

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PMID: 33406006

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