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Hepatology. 2017 Jul;66(1):235-251. doi: 10.1002/hep.29182. Epub 2017 May 18.

Polyphenic trait promotes liver cancer in a model of epigenetic instability in mice.

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School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
Institute of Animal Pathology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
Clinical Chemistry Laboratory, Lausanne University Hospital, Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Mucosal Immunology Lab, Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) represents the fifth-most common form of cancer worldwide and carries a high mortality rate attributed to lack of effective treatment. Males are 8 times more likely to develop HCC than females, an effect largely driven by sex hormones, albeit through still poorly understood mechanisms. We previously identified TRIM28 (tripartite protein 28), a scaffold protein capable of recruiting a number of chromatin modifiers, as a crucial mediator of sexual dimorphism in the liver. Trim28hep-/- mice display sex-specific transcriptional deregulation of a wide range of bile and steroid metabolism genes and development of liver adenomas in males. We now demonstrate that obesity and aging precipitate alterations of TRIM28-dependent transcriptional dynamics, leading to a metabolic infection state responsible for highly penetrant male-restricted hepatic carcinogenesis. Molecular analyses implicate aberrant androgen receptor stimulation, biliary acid disturbances, and altered responses to gut microbiota in the pathogenesis of Trim28hep-/- -associated HCC. Correspondingly, androgen deprivation markedly attenuates the frequency and severity of tumors, and raising animals under axenic conditions completely abrogates their abnormal phenotype, even upon high-fat diet challenge.


This work underpins how discrete polyphenic traits in epigenetically metastable conditions can contribute to a cancer-prone state and more broadly provides new evidence linking hormonal imbalances, metabolic disturbances, gut microbiota, and cancer. (Hepatology 2017;66:235-251).

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