The ubiquitin E3 ligase TRIM21 promotes hepatocarcinogenesis by suppressing the p62-Keap1-Nrf2 antioxidant pathway

Fang Wang, Ye Zhang, Jianliang Shen, Bin Yang, Weiwei Dai, Junrong Yan, Sara Maimouni, Heineken Q Daguplo, Sara Coppola, Yingtang Gao, Yijun Wang, Zhi Du, Kesong Peng, Hui Liu, Qin Zhang, Fei Tang, Peng Wang, Shenglan Gao, Yongbo Wang, Wen-Xing Ding, Grace Guo, Fengmei Wang, Wei-Xing Zong
Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2021 January 19

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: TRIM21 is a ubiquitin E3 ligase that is implicated in numerous biological processes including immune response, cell metabolism, redox homeostasis, and cancer development. We recently reported that TRIM21 can negatively regulate the p62-Keap1-Nrf2 antioxidant pathway by ubiquitylating p62 and prevents its oligomerization and protein sequestration function. As redox homeostasis plays a pivotal role in many cancers including liver cancer, we sought to determine the role of TRIM21 in hepatocarcinogenesis.

METHODS: We examined the correlation between TRIM21 expression and the disease using publicly available data sets and 49 cases of HCC clinical samples. We used TRIM21 genetic knockout mice to determine how TRIM21 ablation impact HCC induced by the carcinogen DEN plus phenobarbital (PB). We explored the mechanism that loss of TRIM21 protects cells from DEN-induced oxidative damage and cell death.

RESULTS: There is a positive correlation between TRIM21 expression and HCC. Consistently, TRIM21-knockout mice are resistant to DEN-induced hepatocarcinogenesis. This is accompanied by decreased cell death and tissue damage upon DEN treatment, hence reduced hepatic tissue repair response and compensatory proliferation. Cells deficient in TRIM21 display enhanced p62 sequestration of Keap1 and are protected from DEN-induced ROS induction and cell death. Reconstitution of wild-type but not the E3 ligase-dead and the p62 binding-deficient mutant TRIM21 impedes the protection from DEN-induced oxidative damage and cell death in TRIM21-deficient cells.

CONCLUSIONS: Increased TRIM21 expression is associated with human HCC. Genetic ablation of TRIM21 leads to protection against oxidative hepatic damage and decreased hepatocarcinogenesis, suggesting TRIM21 as a preventive and therapeutic target.

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