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Fatty acid binding protein 5 is a novel therapeutic target for hepatocellular carcinoma.

BACKGROUND: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an aggressive subtype of liver cancer and is one of the most common cancers with high mortality worldwide. Reprogrammed lipid metabolism plays crucial roles in HCC cancer cell survival, growth, and evolution. Emerging evidence suggests the importance of fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs) in contribution to cancer progression and metastasis; however, how these FABPs are dysregulated in cancer cells, especially in HCC, and the roles of FABPs in cancer progression have not been well defined.

AIM: To understand the genetic alterations and expression of FABPs and their associated cancer hallmarks and oncogenes in contributing to cancer malignancies.

METHODS: We used The Cancer Genome Atlas datasets of pan cancer and liver hepatocellular carcinoma (LIHC) as well as patient cohorts with other cancer types in this study. We investigated genetic alterations of FABPs in various cancer types. mRNA expression was used to determine if FABPs are abnormally expressed in tumor tissues compared to non-tumor controls and to investigate whether their expression correlates with patient clinical outcome, enriched cancer hallmarks and oncogenes previously reported for patients with HCC. We determined the protein levels of FABP5 and its correlated genes in two HCC cell lines and assessed the potential of FABP5 inhibition in treating HCC cells.

RESULTS: We discovered that a gene cluster including five FABP family members ( FABP4, FABP5, FABP8, FABP9 and FABP12 ) is frequently co-amplified in cancer. Amplification, in fact, is the most common genetic alteration for FABPs, leading to overexpression of FABPs. FABP5 showed the greatest differential mRNA expression comparing tumor with non-tumor tissues. High FABP5 expression correlates well with worse patient outcomes ( P < 0.05). FABP5 expression highly correlates with enrichment of G2M checkpoint ( r = 0.33, P = 1.1e-10), TP53 signaling pathway ( r = 0.22, P = 1.7e-5) and many genes in the gene sets such as CDK1 ( r = 0.56, P = 0), CDK4 ( r = 0.49, P = 0), and TP53 ( r = 0.22, P = 1.6e-5). Furthermore, FABP5 also correlates well with two co-expressed oncogenes PLK1 and BIRC5 in pan cancer especially in LIHC patients ( r = 0.58, P = 0; r = 0.58, P = 0; respectively). FABP5high Huh7 cells also expressed higher protein levels of p53, BIRC5, CDK1, CDK2, and CDK4 than FABP5low HepG2 cells. FABP5 inhibition more potently inhibited the tumor cell growth in Huh7 cells than in HepG2 cells.

CONCLUSION: We discovered that FABP5 gene is frequently amplified in cancer, especially in HCC, leading to its significant elevated expression in HCC. Its high expression correlates well with worse patient outcome, enriched cancer hallmarks and oncogenes in HCC. FABP5 inhibition impaired the cell viability of FABP5high Huh7 cells. All these support that FABP5 is a novel therapeutic target for treating FABP5high HCC.

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