Cooperation between distinct cancer driver genes underlies inter-tumor heterogeneity in hepatocellular carcinoma.

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The pattern of genetic alterations in cancer driver genes in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is highly diverse, which partially explains the low efficacy of available therapies. In spite of this, the existing mouse models only recapitulate a small portion of HCC inter-tumor heterogeneity, limiting the understanding of the disease and the nomination of personalized therapies. Here, we aimed at establishing a novel collection of HCC mouse models that captured human HCC diversity.By performing hydrodynamic tail-vein injections, we tested the impact of altering a well-established HCC oncogene (either MYC or β-catenin) in combination with an additional alteration in one of eleven other genes frequently mutated in HCC. Of the 23 unique pairs of genetic alterations that we interrogated, 9 were able to induce HCC. The established HCC mouse models were characterized at histopathological, immune, and transcriptomic level to identify the unique features of each model. Murine HCC cell lines were generated from each tumor model, characterized transcriptionally, and used to identify specific therapies that were validated in vivo.Cooperation between pairs of driver genes produced HCCs with diverse histopathology, immune microenvironments, transcriptomes, and drug responses. Interestingly, MYC expression levels strongly influenced β-catenin activity, indicating that inter-tumor heterogeneity emerges not only from specific combinations of genetic alterations but also from the acquisition of expression-dependent phenotypes.This novel collection of murine HCC models and corresponding cell lines establishes the role of driver genes in diverse contexts and enables mechanistic and translational studies.

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