Despite significant advancements in our understanding of cancer development, the molecular mechanisms that underlie the formation of liver cancer remain largely unknown. C/EBPα is a transcription factor that regulates liver quiescence. Phosphorylation of C/EBPα at serine 193 (S193-ph) is upregulated in older mice and is thought to contribute to age-associated liver dysfunction. Because development of liver tumors is associated with increasing age, we investigated the role of S193-ph in the development of liver cancer using knockin mice expressing a phospho-mimetic aspartic acid residue in place of serine at position 193 (S193D) of C/EBPα. The S193D isoform of C/EBPα was able to completely inhibit liver proliferation in vivo after partial hepatectomy. However, treatment of these mice with diethylnitrosamine/phenobarbital (DEN/PB), which induces formation of liver cancer, actually resulted in earlier development of liver tumors. DEN/PB treatment was associated with specific degradation of both the S193-ph and S193D isoforms of C/EBPα through activation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS). The mechanism of UPS-mediated elimination of C/EBPα during carcinogenesis involved elevated levels of gankyrin, a protein that was found to interact with the S193-ph isoform of C/EBPα and target it for UPS-mediated degradation. This study identifies a molecular mechanism that supports the development of liver cancer in older mice and potential therapeutic targets for the prevention of liver cancer.
Guo-Li Wang, Xiurong Shi, Simon Haefliger, Jingling Jin, Angela Major, Polina Iakova, Milton Finegold, Nikolai A. Timchenko