TAZ-induced Cybb contributes to liver tumor formation in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis

Published:December 10, 2021DOI:


      • Silencing hepatocyte TAZ in pre-tumor NASH suppresses subsequent HCC.
      • Cybb is the key TAZ-induced gene in NASH hepatocytes that triggers tumor formation.
      • Cybb encodes NOX2, which promotes HCC by inducing oxidative DNA damage.
      • Silencing hepatocyte Cybb in pre-tumor NASH, or blocking DNA damage, suppresses HCC.
      • TAZ, NOX2, oxidative DNA damage are strongly correlated in human NASH-HCC liver.

      Background & Aims

      Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a leading cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), but mechanisms linking NASH to eventual tumor formation remain poorly understood. Herein, we investigate the role of TAZ/WWTR1, which is induced in hepatocytes in NASH, in the progression of NASH to HCC.


      The roles of hepatocyte TAZ and its downstream targets were investigated in diet-induced and genetic models of NASH-HCC using gene-targeting, adeno-associated virus 8 (AAV8)-H1-mediated gene silencing, or AAV8-TBG-mediated gene expression. The biochemical signature of the newly elucidated pathway was probed in liver specimens from humans with NASH-HCC.


      When hepatocyte-TAZ was silenced in mice with pre-tumor NASH using AAV8-H1-shTaz (short-hairpin Taz), subsequent HCC tumor development was suppressed. In this setting, the tumor-suppressing effect of shTaz was not dependent of TAZ silencing in the tumors themselves and could be dissociated from the NASH-suppressing effects of shTaz. The mechanism linking pre-tumor hepatocyte-TAZ to eventual tumor formation involved TAZ-mediated induction of the NOX2-encoding gene Cybb, which led to NADPH-mediated oxidative DNA damage. As evidence, DNA damage and tumor formation could be suppressed by treatment of pre-tumor NASH mice with AAV8-H1-shCybb; AAV8-TBG-OGG1, encoding the oxidative DNA-repair enzyme 8-oxoguanine glycosylase; or AAV8-TBG-NHEJ1, encoding the dsDNA repair enzyme non-homologous end-joining factor 1. In surrounding non-tumor tissue from human NASH-HCC livers, there were strong correlations between TAZ, NOX2, and oxidative DNA damage.


      TAZ in pre-tumor NASH-hepatocytes, via induction of Cybb and NOX2-mediated DNA damage, contributes to subsequent HCC tumor development. These findings illustrate how NASH provides a unique window into the early molecular events that can lead to tumor formation and suggest that NASH therapies targeting TAZ might also prevent NASH-HCC.

      Lay summary

      Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is emerging as the leading cause of a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), but molecular events in pre-tumor NASH hepatocytes leading to HCC remain largely unknown. Our study shows that a protein called TAZ in pre-tumor NASH-hepatocytes promotes damage to the DNA of hepatocytes and thereby contributes to eventual HCC. This study reveals a very early event in HCC that is induced in pre-tumor NASH, and the findings suggest that NASH therapies targeting TAZ might also prevent NASH-HCC.

      Graphical abstract


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