ADAMTSL5 is an epigenetically activated gene underlying tumorigenesis and drug resistance in hepatocellular carcinoma.
The tumour microenvironment shapes tumour growth through cellular communications that include both direct interactions and secreted factors. The aim of this study was to characterize the impact of the secreted glycoprotein ADAMTSL5, whose role in cancer has not been previously investigated, on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).ADAMTSL5 methylation status was evaluated through bisulfite sequencing, and publicly available data analysis. ADAMTSL5 RNA and protein expression were assessed in mouse models and HCC patient samples and compared to data from published datasets. Functional studies, including association of ADAMTSL5 depletion with responsiveness to clinically relevant drugs, were performed in cellular and in vivo models. Molecular alterations associated with ADAMTSL5 targeting were determined using proteomics, biochemistry, and RT-qPCR.Methylome analysis revealed hypermethylated gene body CpG islands at the ADAMTSL5 locus in both mouse and human HCC, correlating with higher ADAMTSL5 expression. ADAMTSL5 targeting interfered with tumorigenic properties of HCC cells in vitro and in vivo, whereas ADAMTSL5 overexpression conferred tumorigenicity to pre-tumoral hepatocytes sensitized to transformation by a modest level of MET receptor expression. Mechanistically, ADAMTSL5 abrogation led to reduction of several oncogenic inputs relevant to HCC, including reduced expression and/or phosphorylation levels of receptor tyrosine kinases MET, EGFR, PDGFRβ, IGF1Rβ, or FGFR4. This phenotype was associated with significantly increased sensitivity of HCC cells to clinically relevant drugs, namely Sorafenib, Lenvatinib, Regorafenib. Moreover, ADAMTSL5 depletion drastically increased expression of AXL, accompanied by a sensitization to Bemcentinib.Our results point to a role for ADAMTSL5 in maintaining the function of key oncogenic signalling pathways, suggesting that it may act as a master regulator of tumorigenicity and drug resistance in HCC.