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Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 11;7:40446. doi: 10.1038/srep40446.

Hypoxia activates Wnt/β-catenin signaling by regulating the expression of BCL9 in human hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Department of Orthorpedic Oncology, Changzheng Hospital, Second Military Medical University, NO. 415, Fengyang Road, Shanghai, 200003, China.
Department of Anatomy, Xuzhou Medical University, NO. 209, Tongshan Road, Xuzhou, 221004, China.
Department of Biliary Surgery, Eastern Hepatobiliary Surgery Hospital, Second Military Medical University, NO. 225, Changhai Road, Shanghai, 200438, China.
Department of Bone and soft tissue tumors, Fudan Cancer Center, Fudan University, NO. 270, Dong'an Road, Shanghai, 200000, China.


The Wnt/β-catenin signaling is abnormally activated in the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). BCL9 is an essential co-activator in the Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Importantly, BCL9 is absent from tumors originating from normal cellular counterparts and overexpressed in many cancers including HCC. But the mechanism for BCL9 overexpression remains unknown. Ample evidence indicates that hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs) play a role in the development of HCC. It was found in our study that BCL9 was overexpressed in both primary HCC and bone metastasis specimens; loss of BCL9 inhibited the proliferation, migration and angiogenesis of HCC; and that that hypoxia mechanically induced the expression of BCL9. BCL9 induction under the hypoxic condition was predominantly mediated by HIF-1α but not HIF2α. In vitro evidence from xenograft models indicated that BCL9 promoter/gene knockout inhibited HCC tumor growth and angiogenesis. Notably, we found that BCL9 and HIF-1α were coordinately regulated in human HCC specimen. The above findings suggest that hypoxia may promote the expression of BCL9 and associate with the development of HCC. Specific regulation of BCL9 expression by HIF-1α may prove to be an underlying crosstalk between Wnt/β-catenin signaling and hypoxia signaling pathways.

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