GATA4, a transcription factor crucial for early liver development, has been implicated in the pathophysiology of hepatoblastoma, an embryonal tumor of childhood. However, the molecular and phenotypic consequences of GATA4 expression in hepatoblastoma are not fully understood. We surveyed GATA4 expression in 24 hepatoblastomas using RNA in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. RNA interference was used to inhibit GATA4 in human HUH6 hepatoblastoma cells, and changes in cell migration were measured with wound healing and transwell assays. RNA microarray hybridization was performed on control and GATA4 knockdown HUH6 cells, and differentially expressed genes were validated by quantitative polymerase chain reaction or immunostaining. Plasmid transfection was used to overexpress GATA4 in primary human hepatocytes and ensuring changes in gene expression were measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. We found that GATA4 expression was high in most hepatoblastomas but weak or negligible in normal hepatocytes. GATA4 gene silencing impaired HUH6 cell migration. We identified 106 differentially expressed genes (72 downregulated, 34 upregulated) in knockdown versus control HUH6 cells. GATA4 silencing altered the expression of genes associated with cytoskeleton organization, cell-to-cell adhesion, and extracellular matrix dynamics (e.g. ADD3, AHNAK, DOCK8, RHOU, MSF, IGFBP1, COL4A2). These changes in gene expression reflected a more epithelial (less malignant) phenotype. Consistent with this notion, there was reduced F-actin stress fiber formation in knockdown HUH6 cells. Forced expression of GATA4 in primary human hepatocytes triggered opposite changes in the expression of genes identified by GATA4 silencing in HUH6 cells. In conclusion, GATA4 is highly expressed in most hepatoblastomas and correlates with a mesenchymal, migratory phenotype of hepatoblastoma cells.
- Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
- gene regulation
- liver cancer
- transcription factor