Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is difficult to detect, carries a poor prognosis, and is one of few cancers with an increasing yearly incidence. Molecular defects in complement factor H (CFH), a critical regulatory protein of the complement alternative pathway (AP), are typically associated with inflammatory diseases of the eye and kidney. Little is known regarding the role of CFH in controlling complement activation within the liver. While studying aging CFH-deficient (fH–/–) mice, we observed spontaneous hepatic tumor formation in more than 50% of aged fH–/– males. Examination of fH–/– livers (3–24 months) for evidence of complement-mediated inflammation revealed widespread deposition of complement-activation fragments throughout the sinusoids, elevated transaminase levels, increased hepatic CD8+ and F4/80+ cells, overexpression of hepatic mRNA associated with inflammatory signaling pathways, steatosis, and increased collagen deposition. Immunostaining of human HCC biopsies revealed extensive deposition of complement fragments within the tumors. Investigating the Cancer Genome Atlas also revealed that increased CFH mRNA expression is associated with improved survival in patients with HCC, whereas mutations are associated with worse survival. These results indicate that CFH is critical for controlling complement activation in the liver, and in its absence, AP activation leads to chronic inflammation and promotes hepatic carcinogenesis.
Jennifer Laskowski, Brandon Renner, Matthew C. Pickering, Natalie J. Serkova, Peter M. Smith-Jones, Eric T. Clambey, Raphael A. Nemenoff, Joshua M. Thurman