Mouse models of hepatocellular carcinoma

Authors

Olivier Duchamp | Gaël Krysa | Adélaïde Ferment | Loïc Morgand | Hugo Quillery | Robin Artus | Maxime Ramelet | Jeremy Odillard | Peggy Provent | Sylvie Maubant | Caroline Mignard | Fabrice Viviani | Samira Benhamouche-Trouillet

Abstract

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related death and accounts for over 80% of primary liver cancer worldwide. Early stage HCC can be treated by local ablation, surgical resection or liver transplantation. Systemic pharmacological options are limited (kinase and immune-checkpoint inhibitors). Most cases of liver cancer occur in the setting of chronic liver diseases. Risk factors include chronic Hepatitis B and C, alcohol addiction and metabolic diseases. HCC is a multistep process comprising chronic liver injury, inflammation, fibrosis/cirrhosis and cancer formation. Therefore, providing palliative and curative options remains a high medical need. And with the recent success of immunotherapies in HCC, mouse models that better recapitulate the human disease and antitumor immune response are needed. In order to better evaluate new preventive and curative treatments of liver cancers we developed complementary and integrated strategies to mimic the liver cancer initiation and progression steps in mouse models.

These models involve chemotoxic agents, diet-induced disorders and syngeneic or xenogeneic tumor implantation strategies.  We established an orthotopic syngeneic model using Hepa1.6 mouse liver hepatoma cells, characterized through liver index, alpha-fetoprotein measurement in serum and liver, and MRI. The response to chemotherapy (sorafenib) and immunotherapy (anti PD-1, anti-TLR) was also assessed and show moderate to high efficiency. Moreover, a panel of xenograft models including Patient-Derived Xenograft models (PDXs) are available to assess new treatment options in human HCC with regards of the genetic mutations and the variety of etiologies seen in human. But as xenograft models are not completely mimicking the human situation of both immune and liver microenvironment, we have recently initiated the development of a double humanized (immune and liver) transgenic mouse as a better host for human tumor engraftment. During the course of HCC formation, the liver undergoes cycles of inflammation, necrosis with regeneration, fibrosis, cell dysplasia and ultimately HCC. Thus, we developed a model induced by a low dose of streptozotocin and high fat diet regimen. In this model, mice develop metabolic syndrome NASH and fibrosis within 12 weeks and HCC within 16 weeks. Of interest, 100% of male mice develop HCC within 16 weeks, in accordance with studies showing that men had a 2-to 7-fold higher risk of developing HCC in human. Treatment of mice with lenvatinib alone or in combination with anti-PD1 increases survival and reduces tumor burden as shown with reduced liver weight/body weight ratio at 16 weeks. Altogether, these results demonstrate the usefulness of this comprehensive platform of preclinical in vivo HCC models to discover and identify novel therapeutic strategies that could circumvent the progression of liver cancers.

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