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Elevated FBXL6 activates both wild-type KRAS and mutant KRAS G12D and drives HCC tumorigenesis via the ERK/mTOR/PRELID2/ROS axis in mice.

Military Medical Research 2023 December 21
BACKGROUND: Kirsten rat sarcoma (KRAS) and mutant KRASG12D have been implicated in human cancers, but it remains unclear whether their activation requires ubiquitination. This study aimed to investigate whether and how F-box and leucine-rich repeat 6 (FBXL6) regulates KRAS and KRASG12D activity in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

METHODS: We constructed transgenic mouse strains LC (LSL-Fbxl6KI/+ ;Alb-Cre, n = 13), KC (LSL-KrasG12D/+ ;Alb-Cre, n = 10) and KLC (LSL-KrasG12D/+ ;LSL-Fbxl6KI/+ ;Alb-Cre, n = 12) mice, and then monitored HCC for 320 d. Multiomics approaches and pharmacological inhibitors were used to determine oncogenic signaling in the context of elevated FBXL6 and KRAS activation. Co‑immunoprecipitation (Co-IP), Western blotting, ubiquitination assay and RAS activity detection assay were employed to investigate the underlying molecular mechanism by which FBXL6 activates KRAS. The pathological relevance of the FBXL6/KRAS/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)/proteins of relevant evolutionary and lymphoid interest domain 2 (PRELID2) axis was evaluated in 129 paired samples from HCC patients.

RESULTS: FBXL6 is highly expressed in HCC as well as other human cancers (P < 0.001). Interestingly, FBXL6 drives HCC in transgenic mice. Mechanistically, elevated FBXL6 promotes the polyubiquitination of both wild-type KRAS and KRASG12D at lysine 128, leading to the activation of both KRAS and KRASG12D and promoting their binding to the serine/threonine-protein kinase RAF, which is followed by the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)/ERK/mTOR signaling. The oncogenic activity of the MEK/ERK/mTOR axis relies on PRELID2, which induces reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. Furthermore, hepatic FBXL6 upregulation facilitates KRASG12D to induce more severe hepatocarcinogenesis and lung metastasis via the MEK/ERK/mTOR/PRELID2/ROS axis. Dual inhibition of MEK and mTOR effectively suppresses tumor growth and metastasis in this subtype of cancer in vivo. In clinical samples, FBXL6 expression positively correlates with p-ERK (χ2  = 85.067, P < 0.001), p-mTOR (χ2  = 66.919, P < 0.001) and PRELID2 (χ2  = 20.891, P < 0.001). The Kaplan-Meier survival analyses suggested that HCC patients with high FBXL6/p-ERK levels predicted worse overall survival (log‑rank P < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: FBXL6 activates KRAS or KRASG12D via ubiquitination at the site K128, leading to activation of the ERK/mTOR/PRELID2/ROS axis and tumorigenesis. Dual inhibition of MEK and mTOR effectively protects against FBXL6- and KRASG12D -induced tumorigenesis, providing a potential therapeutic strategy to treat this aggressive subtype of liver cancer.

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