Persistent activation of Nrf2 through p62 in hepatocellular carcinoma cells.
ABSTRACT Suppression of autophagy is always accompanied by marked accumulation of p62, a selective autophagy substrate. Because p62 interacts with the Nrf2-binding site on Keap1, which is a Cullin 3-based ubiquitin ligase adapter protein, autophagy deficiency causes competitive inhibition of the Nrf2-Keap1 interaction, resulting in stabilization of Nrf2 followed by transcriptional activation of Nrf2 target genes. Herein, we show that liver-specific autophagy-deficient mice harbor adenomas linked to both the formation of p62- and Keap1-positive cellular aggregates and induction of Nrf2 targets. Importantly, similar aggregates were identified in more than 25% of human hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC), and induction of Nrf2 target genes was recognized in most of these tumors. Gene targeting of p62 in an HCC cell line markedly abrogates the anchorage-independent growth, whereas forced expression of p62, but not a Keap1 interaction-defective mutant, resulted in recovery of the growth defect. These results indicate the involvement of persistent activation of Nrf2 through the accumulation of p62 in hepatoma development.
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: NRF2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2) is an important transcriptional activator involved in the cellular defense mechanisms against electrophilic and oxidative stress. Recent studies have demonstrated that NRF2 protein is up-regulated in several human malignancies and is associated with worse prognosis of these patients. However, pathological and clinical significance of NRF2 has remained largely unknown in the breast cancer patients. Therefore, in this study, we immunolocalized NRF2 in 106 breast cancer cases. NRF2 immunoreactivity was mainly detected in the nucleus of the breast carcinoma cells and was positive in 44% of the cases, while negligible in normal mammary glands. The NRF2 status was significantly associated with histological grade, Ki-67 labeling index, p62 immunoreactivity and NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) immunoreactivity, and adversely associated with progesterone receptor status. In addition, results of multivariate analysis revealed that NRF2 status was an independent adverse prognostic factor for both recurrence and disease-free survival of the patients. Subsequent in vitro studies also demonstrated that NRF2 expression significantly increased cell proliferation activity of MCF7 and SK-BR-3 breast carcinoma cells. These results suggest that nuclear NRF2 protein is accumulated in the breast carcinoma cells and plays important roles in the proliferation and/or progression of breast carcinoma. Nuclear NRF2 immunoreactivity is therefore considered a potent prognostic factor in breast cancer patients.Endocrine Related Cancer 12/2013; · 5.26 Impact Factor
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Emerging evidence indicate that oxidative stress instigates the formation of ubiquitin (Ub)-aggregates, substrates of autophagy, through a process requiring the ubiquitin binding adaptors p62/SQSTM1 and NBR1. Here, we have investigated the role of p62 and NBR1 in cell survival following hypericin-mediated photodynamic therapy (Hyp-PDT), a procedure known to incite robust ROS-based endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and autophagy pathways. We found that Hyp-PDT stimulated the formation of p62- and NBR1-associated Ub-aggregates in normal and cancer cells, which were ultimately removed by autophagy, through a mechanism partially regulated by p38(MAPK). In line with this, genetic or pharmacological p38(MAPK)-inhibition reduced p62 and NBR1 levels and aggregate formation and impaired Nrf2 activation, thus increasing photo-oxidative stress and cell death. p62 deficient cells, or cells lacking p62 along with reduced levels of NBR1 (through siRNA knockdown), also displayed reduced aggregate formation but exhibited attenuated ROS levels, reduced caspase activation and improved survival after Hyp-PDT. The increased resistance to photo-oxidative stress exhibited by cells lacking p62 and/or NBR1 was overruled by the inhibition of the p38(MAPK), which restored cytotoxic ROS levels, thus indicating the relevance of this signal in the control of cell viability. Taken together these findings evidence that in photodynamically-treated cells a p38(MAPK) -regulated pathway coordinates the p62/NBR1-mediated clearance of cytosolic aggregates and mitigates PDT-induced proteotoxicity. They also reveal that a functional p38(MAPK) -Nrf2 signal is required to keep ROS levels in check and protect against PDT-induced proteotoxicity, independently of aggregate formation.Free radical biology & medicine 11/2013; · 5.42 Impact Factor
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Studies on gene and/or microRNA (miRNA) dysregulation in the early stages of hepatocarcinogenesis are hampered by the difficulty of diagnosing early lesions in humans. Experimental models recapitulating human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are then used to perform this analysis. We performed miRNA and gene expression profiling to characterize the molecular events involved in the multistep process of hepatocarcinogenesis in the resistant-hepatocyte rat model. A high percentage of dysregulated miRNAs/genes in HCC were similarly altered in early preneoplastic lesions positive for the stem/progenitor cell marker cytokeratin-19, indicating that several HCC-associated alterations occur from the very beginning of the carcinogenic process. Our analysis also identified miRNA/gene-target networks aberrantly activated at the initial stage of hepatocarcinogenesis. Activation of the nuclear factor erythroid related factor 2 (NRF2) pathway and up-regulation of the miR-200 family were among the most prominent changes. The relevance of these alterations in the development of HCC was confirmed by the observation that NRF2 silencing impaired while miR-200a overexpression promoted HCC cell proliferation in vitro. Moreover, T3-induced in vivo inhibition of the NRF2 pathway accompanied the regression of cytokeratin-19-positive nodules, suggesting that activation of this transcription factor contributes to the onset and progression of preneoplastic lesions towards malignancy. The finding that 78% of genes and 57% of dysregulated miRNAs in rat HCC have been previously associated with human HCC as well underlines the translational value of our results. Conclusion: This study indicates that most of the molecular changes found in HCC occur in the very early stages of hepatocarcinogenesis. Among these, the NRF2 pathway plays a relevant role and may represent a new therapeutic target. (Hepatology 2014;58:228–241)Hepatology 01/2014; 59(1). · 12.00 Impact Factor
The Rockefeller University Press $30.00
J. Cell Biol. Vol. 193 No. 2 275–284
Y. Inami, S. Waguri, and A. Sakamoto contributed equally to this paper.
Correspondence to Masaaki Komatsu: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abbreviations used in this paper: Gstm1, glutathione S-transferase mu1; HCC,
hepatocellular carcinoma; Keap1, kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1; Nqo1,
NAD(P)H dehydrogenase quinone 1; Nrf2, nuclear factor erythroid 2–related
Macroautophagy (hereafter referred to as autophagy) is a cellu-
lar degradation system in which cytoplasmic components, includ-
ing organelles, are sequestered by double membrane structures
called autophagosomes and the sequestered materials are
degraded by lysosomal hydrolases for supply of amino acids
and for cellular homeostasis (Rubinsztein, 2006; Levine and
Kroemer, 2008; Mizushima et al., 2008; Rabinowitz and White,
2010). Although autophagy has generally been considered non-
selective, recent studies have shed light on another indispensable
role for basal autophagy in cellular homeostasis, which is medi-
ated by selective degradation of a specific substrate(s) (Kirkin
et al., 2009; Kraft et al., 2010; Johansen and Lamark, 2011).
p62 is a ubiquitously expressed cellular protein that is con-
served in metazoa but not in plants and fungi, and recently it has
been known as one of the selective substrates for autophagy
(Bjørkøy et al., 2005; Pankiv et al., 2007; Ichimura et al., 2008).
This protein is localized at the autophagosome formation site
(Itakura and Mizushima, 2011) and directly interacts with LC3, an
autophagosome localizing protein (Pankiv et al., 2007; Ichimura
et al., 2008). Subsequently, the p62 is incorporated into the
autophagosome and then degraded (Pankiv et al., 2007; Ichimura
et al., 2008). Therefore, impaired autophagy is accompanied by
accumulation of p62 followed by the formation of p62 and
ubiquitinated protein aggregates because of the nature of both self-
oligomerization and ubiquitin binding of p62 (Komatsu et al.,
2007; Nezis et al., 2008).
Nrf2-binding site on Keap1, which is a Cullin 3–based
ubiquitin ligase adapter protein, autophagy deficiency
causes competitive inhibition of the Nrf2–Keap1 interaction,
resulting in stabilization of Nrf2 followed by transcrip-
tional activation of Nrf2 target genes. Herein, we show
that liver-specific autophagy-deficient mice harbor ade-
nomas linked to both the formation of p62- and Keap1-
positive cellular aggregates and induction of Nrf2 targets.
uppression of autophagy is always accompanied
by marked accumulation of p62, a selective au-
tophagy substrate. Because p62 interacts with the
Importantly, similar aggregates were identified in more
than 25% of human hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC), and
induction of Nrf2 target genes was recognized in most of
these tumors. Gene targeting of p62 in an HCC cell line
markedly abrogates the anchorage-independent growth,
whereas forced expression of p62, but not a Keap1 inter-
action-defective mutant, resulted in recovery of the growth
defect. These results indicate the involvement of persistent
activation of Nrf2 through the accumulation of p62 in
Persistent activation of Nrf2 through p62 in
hepatocellular carcinoma cells
Yoshihiro Inami,1,2 Satoshi Waguri,4 Ayako Sakamoto,1 Tsuguka Kouno,1 Kazuto Nakada,6 Okio Hino,3
Sumio Watanabe,2 Jin Ando,5 Manabu Iwadate,5 Masayuki Yamamoto,7 Myung-Shik Lee,8 Keiji Tanaka,1
and Masaaki Komatsu1
1Protein Metabolism Project, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 156-8501, Japan
2Department of Gastroenterology and 3Department of Pathology and Oncology, Juntendo University School of Medicine, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8421, Japan
4Department of Anatomy and Histology and 5Department of Organ Regulatory Surgery, Fukushima Medical University School of Medicine, Hikarigaoka,
Fukushima 960-1295, Japan
6Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8572, Japan
7Department of Medical Biochemistry, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8575, Japan
8Department of Medicine, Samsung Medical Center, Kangnam-ku, Seoul 135-710, Korea
© 2011 Inami et al. This article is distributed under the terms of an Attribution–
Noncommercial–Share Alike–No Mirror Sites license for the first six months after the pub-
lication date (see http://www.rupress.org/terms). After six months it is available under a
Creative Commons License (Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported license,
as described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/).
T H E J O U R N A L O F C E L L B I O L O G Y
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 2 • 2011 276
Figure 1. Loss of Atg7 eventually triggers hepatocellular adenoma. (A) Chronological changes in gross anatomy of livers of Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre and Atg7f/f
mice. Arrows indicate microtumors. Bars, 1 cm. (B) H&E-stained liver sections of Atg7f/f and Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mice aged from 4 to 12 mo. Dashed line: the
tumor region in the liver of a representative 12-mo-old Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mouse. The inset shows higher magnification view of the boxed region containing a
mitotic cell (arrowhead). C, central vein; P, portal vein. Bars, 100 µm. (C) Liver function tests of Atg7f/f (blue bars) and Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre (red bars) mice aged
from 4 to 12 mo. Serum levels of aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) were measured. Data are
means ± SD of Atg7f/f (n = 3) and Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre (n = 4) at 4 mo of age, of Atg7f/f (n = 3) and Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre (n = 3) at 9 mo of age, and of Atg7f/f (n = 5)
Role of p62 in tumor development • Inami et al.
measuring leakage liver enzymes (Fig. 1 C). Microtumors
(diameter less than 1 mm) developed randomly throughout
the liver of 7-mo-old mutant mice but not in age-matched con-
trol mice (Fig. 1 A). The number and size of the tumors in-
creased with age, and several tumors in livers of 12-mo-old
mutant mice were >5 mm in diameter (Fig. 1 A and Table S1).
H&E staining indicated that the tumors in Atg7-deficient livers
were in most cases well demarcated with little fibrous capsule,
composed of irregular hepatic plates with tumor cells showing
large nuclear cytoplasmic ratio and occasional nuclear atypia
(Fig. 1 B). Thus, they were pathologically diagnosed as hepato-
Autophagy deficiency in hepatocytes is
accompanied by mitochondria dysfunction
and genomic instability
Electron microscopy showed that the phenotype of nontumor
regions of Atg7-deficient liver of 12-mo-old mice was basically
similar to that previously observed in the 3-mo-old Atg7-
deficient liver (Komatsu et al., 2005). Specifically, abundance of
smooth ER, presence of numerous deformed mitochondria and
peroxisomes, and appearance of concentric membranous struc-
tures and aggregates were noted (Fig. 1 D, a and b). Many per-
oxisomes were as big as the mitochondria and often surrounded
by rough ER-derived double-membrane structures (Fig. 1 D, b).
Although the tumor regions showed similar changes, the sec-
tions contained larger proportions of deformed mitochondria and
scarce concentric membranous structures (Fig. 1 D, c and d).
To determine whether the deformed mitochondria observed
in Atg7-deficient hepatocytes and tumor cells are functionally
intact, we examined the activity of cytochrome c oxidase (COX)
enzyme by histochemistry (Inoue et al., 2000). As shown in
Fig. 1 E, the activity was markedly reduced by loss of Atg7 for
4 mo, and the reduction worsened with age. Intriguingly, the
hepatocellular adenoma derived from Atg7-deficient livers also
exhibited reduced COX activity (Fig. 1 E). These results indi-
cate reduced mitochondrial activity in Atg7-deficient hepatocytes
and adenoma cells. We also often recognized cells with nuclei
positive for phospho-histone H2A.X, representing genomic
instability, in both the nontumor and tumor regions of Atg7-
deficient livers, whereas such cells were not detected in the con-
trol tissues at all (Fig. 1 F). Taken together, it is concluded that
autophagy deficiency in mouse livers causes tumorigenesis as-
sociated with chronic inflammation, blockade of mitochondrial
activity, and genome instability.
Activation of Nrf2 in Atg7-deficient tumors
The next series of experiments served to investigate the chrono-
logic changes in the Nrf2–Keap1 pathway in Atg7-deficient livers.
The Nrf2–Keap1 system is currently recognized as one
of the major cellular defense mechanisms against oxidative
and electrophilic stresses. Under quiescent conditions, the
transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2–related
factor 2) is constitutively degraded through the ubiquitin–
proteasome pathway as its binding partner Keap1 (kelch-like
ECH-associated protein 1) is an adaptor of the ubiquitin ligase
complex. Exposure to electrophiles, reactive oxygen species,
and nitric oxide instigates modification of the cysteine resi-
dues of Keap1, leading to Keap1 inactivation. Hence, Nrf2
becomes stabilized and translocates to the nucleus to induce
the transcription of numerous cytoprotective genes through
its heterodimerization with small Maf proteins (Motohashi
and Yamamoto, 2004; Hayes and McMahon, 2009; Villeneuve
et al., 2010).
Recently, we and other groups independently reported
that p62 interacts with the Nrf2-binding site on Keap1, and thus,
overproduction of p62 or autophagy deficiency competes with
the interaction between Nrf2 and Keap1, resulting in stabiliza-
tion of Nrf2 followed by transcriptional activation of Nrf2 target
genes (Copple et al., 2010; Jain et al., 2010; Komatsu et al.,
2010; Lau et al., 2010; Riley et al., 2010). Induction of Nrf2
target genes has been recognized in many human cancers (Hayes
and McMahon, 2009) that also show p62 accumulation (Zatloukal
et al., 2002). However, it is not clear whether p62-induced Nrf2
activation is involved in tumorigenesis and/or tumor progres-
sion. In this report, we show that liver-specific Atg7 knockout
mice develop hepatocellular adenoma accompanied by excess
accumulation of p62 followed by Nrf2 activation, and that per-
sistent activation of Nrf2 through p62 contributes to develop-
ment in human hepatocellular carcinoma.
Results and discussion
Loss of Atg7 in mouse liver causes
Recently, we found that aged mice with liver-specific Atg7 defi-
ciency develop multiple tumors in the livers similar to systemi-
cally mosaic Atg5-deficient mice (Takamura et al., 2011), but
the exact mechanism of tumorigenesis is still unclear. Thus, we
first examined the chronologic changes in the liver-specific Atg7-
deficient mice (Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre; Komatsu et al., 2007), includ-
ing control littermates (Atg7f/f). Atg7 is an E1-like enzyme for
both the Atg12 and Atg8 conjugation systems, and is essential
for autophagy (Tanida et al., 1999). The mutant mice exhibited
severe hepatomegaly with hepatocyte hypertrophy, as reported
previously (Komatsu et al., 2005; Fig. 1, A and B). Loss of Atg7
in mouse livers was also accompanied by inflammation, as judged
by both hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining (Fig. 1 B) and
and Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre (n = 5) at 12 mo of age. *, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01; ***, P < 0.001. (D) Electron microscopy of nontumor hepatocytes (a and b) and
tumor cells (c and d) in Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mouse liver. The boxed regions in a and c are enlarged and shown as b and d, respectively. The inset in b shows
the higher magnification view of a peroxisome (boxed region in b). Note numerous peroxisomes (asterisks) and accumulation of deformed mitochondria
(arrowheads) in the peripheral area. Arrows: concentric membranous structures that were consistently present in Atg7-deficient hepatocytes. Nu, nucleus;
L, lipid droplet. Bars: (a and c) 5 µm; (b and d) 1 µm. (E) Histochemical detection of COX activity in liver sections of Atg7f/f and Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mice aged
from 4 to 12 mo. Dashed line: liver tumor region in a representative 12-mo-old Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mouse. Bar, 10 µm. (F) Phospho-histone H2A.X-positive cells
in nontumor and tumor regions of 12-mo-old mice of the indicated genotypes. Arrows, cells positive for Phospho-histone H2A.X. Bar, 100 µm.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 2 • 2011 278
variant product that migrates faster was also accumulated in
both fractions. The quantity of insoluble p62 increased with age,
and Keap1 was also fractionated into the insoluble fraction
Immunoblot analysis showed marked accumulation of p62 in liv-
ers of 4-mo-old Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mice, and the presence of both the
soluble and insoluble fractions of p62 (Fig. 2 A). A p62-splicing
Figure 2. Activation of Nrf2 in Atg7-deficient hepatocellular adenoma. (A) Immunoblot analysis. Total, soluble, and insoluble fractions were subjected to
SDS-PAGE and analyzed by immunoblotting with the indicated antibodies. Note that the decrease in conversion of LC3-I to LC3-II, which signifies defective
autophagosome formation, was confirmed in both the nontumor and tumor regions of the liver of Atg7-deficient mice (Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre). Data were obtained
from three independent experiments. (B) Immunofluorescence analysis. Liver nontumor or tumor sections from 12-mo-old mice of the indicated genotypes
were immunostained with anti-p62 and anti-Keap1 antibodies. The right columns show the merged images of Keap1 (green) and p62 (red). Each inset
is a magnified image of the boxed region. Bars, 20 µm. (C) qRT-PCR analysis. Total RNAs were prepared from liver or tumor shown in A. Values
were normalized to the amount of mRNA in the Atg7f/f liver of 4-mo-old (left) and 12-mo-old mice (right). Data are means ± SD of three experiments.
**, P < 0.01; ***, P < 0.001.
279Role of p62 in tumor development • Inami et al.
into p62 aggregate structures. Indeed, double immunofluorescence
microscopy showed that most of the p62-containing aggregates in
Atg7-deficient nontumor and tumor cells were also positive for
Keap1 (Fig. 2 B). We confirmed not only the induction of gene
expression of Nrf2 targets such as NAD(P)H dehydrogenase
in proportion to the amount of insoluble p62 (Fig. 2 A).
Interestingly, accumulation of p62 was also noted in Atg7-
deficient tumor regions as well as in the nontumor regions, and
significant amounts of p62 and Keap1 were recovered in the
insoluble fraction (Fig. 2 A), implying sequestration of Keap1
Figure 3. Activation of Nrf2 in human HCC containing p62- and Keap1-positive aggregates. (A) Immunohistochemical images. Paraffin sections of a liver
cancer tissue array were stained with anti-p62 or anti-Keap1 antibody. 6 out of 26 HCC cases containing the typical inclusions are shown. Case codes
with pathological grade in parenthesis are indicated at the top. Higher magnification views of the boxed regions are shown in the insets. Bars: (panels) 50 µm;
(insets) 10 µm. (B) Double immunofluorescence microscopy. Three cases of HCC containing typical inclusions were immunostained with anti-Keap1 and
anti-p62 antibodies. The merged images of Keap1 (green) and p62 (red) are shown on the right. Pathological grades are indicated on the left. Bars, 10 µm.
(C) qRT-PCR analyses. Total RNAs were prepared from both nontumor and tumor regions of 15 HCCs. Values were normalized to the amount of mRNA in
the nontumor region of B6 where p62- and Keap1-positive aggregates were not recognized. Data are means ± SD of three experiments.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 2 • 2011 280
Nrf2 activation by p62 contributes to
To further clarify the pathological significance of Nrf2 activa-
tion in human HCC, we used human HCC cell lines. Among the
six human HCC cell lines examined, Huh-1 and JHH-5 cell lines
expressed p62 and Nqo1 mRNAs and proteins at relatively high
levels compared with an immortalized human embryonic kid-
ney cell line, HEK293 (Fig. 4, A and B). Large amounts of
nuclear Nrf2 protein were also found in those two cell lines
(Fig. 4 C). Next, p62 knockout clones were generated from
these two cell lines. The p62 in both cell lines was successfully
deleted using a zinc finger nuclease system comprised of a class
of engineered DNA-binding proteins that facilitate targeted
editing of the genome by creating double-strand breaks in DNA
at specified locations (Meng et al., 2008; Santiago et al., 2008).
Disruption of p62 was confirmed by the absence of both p62
transcript and the protein in p62-deficient cell lines (JHH-5_p62/
and Huh-1_p62/; Fig. 4, D and E; and unpublished data).
Importantly, although p62- and Keap1-positive aggregates were
frequently detected in the cytoplasm of both JHH-5 and Huh-1
cell lines, such aggregates were completely dispersed by loss of
p62 (Fig. 4 F), indicating that like a case in autophagy-deficient
tissues (Komatsu et al., 2007), p62 is responsible for formation
of the aggregates.
Next, to mimic the physiological environment allowing
cells to assemble into the three-dimensional (3D) structures
similar to what is observed in vivo, the parent and p62/ cell
lines were subjected to 3D culture. Because the Huh-1 cell line
did not grow in 3D culture conditions, we used the JHH-5 cell
line to examine the effect of loss of p62. Quantitative analysis
showed significant suppression of Nqo1 and Gstm1 expression
in JHH-5 cells by loss of p62 under the 3D culture conditions
(Fig. 4 G). Furthermore, the soft agar colony formation assay
showed a reduced colony formation in JHH-5_p62/ than pa-
rental JHH-5 (Fig. 4 H), indicating less anchorage-independent
growth. As expected, such defect was recovered by forced ex-
pression of wild-type p62 but not p62 T350A mutant defective
in Keap1 interaction (Komatsu et al., 2010) into JHH-5_p62/
(Fig. 4 H and Fig. S1). Collectively, these results emphasize the
potential role of Nrf2 activation through Keap1 inactivation (by
accumulation of p62) in hepatoma development.
quinone 1 (Nqo1) and glutathione S-transferase mu1 (Gstm1;
Fig. 2 C), but also increased quantity of Nrf2 and Nqo1 proteins
in Atg7-deficient livers and tumor region (Fig. 2 A). Taken
together, these results indicate persistent activation of Nrf2 in
Atg7-deficient tumor regions as well as nontumor regions due to
accumulation of p62.
Activation of Nrf2 in human
To investigate whether similar events in Atg7-deficient condi-
tions occur in human liver disorders, including hepatitis, liver
cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), we conducted
immunohistochemistry for human liver disease tissue arrays
using anti-p62 and anti-Keap1 antibodies. As reported previously
(Zatloukal et al., 2002), immunohistochemical analysis with
anti-p62 antibody showed abundance of p62 and p62-positive
aggregates in several cases of human HCC (Fig. 3 A). Aggregates
positive for Keap1 were also found in the HCC cases that showed
p62 aggregates (Fig. 3 A). As expected, double immunofluores-
cence microscopy demonstrated extensive colocalization of p62
and Keap1 in numerous aggregates in HCC regardless of the
pathological grade (Fig. 3 B). Quantitative analysis showed that
25.5% (26 of 102 patients) and 21.3% (13 of 61 patients) of HCC
and adjacent tissue of HCC contained p62- and Keap1-positive
aggregates, respectively (Table I), albeit the aggregates in the
adjacent tissue of HCC tended to be smaller in size and num-
ber (Fig. 3 A). There was no significant correlation between
the presence of p62 and Keap1 double-positive aggregates and
sex, age of tumor onset, or pathological grade (Table S2). These
aggregates were also detected in tissues of patients with hep-
atitis, liver cirrhosis, and non-HCC tumors, though at lower
incidence compared with those in HCC and HCC-adjacent
tissues (Table I).
Is Nrf2 activated in HCC similar to autophagy-deficient
tumors? To answer this question, quantitative real-time PCR
(qRT-PCR) was conducted with mRNAs prepared from non-
tumor and tumor regions of HCC patients. The results showed
marked induction of Nqo1, an Nrf2 target, in 8 out of 15 HCCs
positive for p62 and Keap1 aggregates (Fig. 3 C). These results
imply hyperactivation of Nrf2 associated with p62 accumula-
tion in certain types of human HCC.
Table I. Presence of Keap1 and p62 double-positive aggregates in human liver diseases.
Pathological diagnosis Total numberp62 and Keap1
Tissue adjacent to hepatocellular carcinoma
Clear cell carcinoma
Bile duct carcinoma
281Role of p62 in tumor development • Inami et al.
Figure 4. Deletion of p62 suppressed anchorage-independent growth of human HCC cell line. (A) qRT-PCR analyses of p62 and Nqo1 in HCC cell lines.
Values were normalized to the amount of mRNA in Hek293 cells. Data shown are representative of three separate experiments. (B) Immunoblot analysis.
Total lysates from the indicated cell lines were subjected to SDS-PAGE and analyzed by immunoblotting with the indicated antibodies. Asterisk indicates
a nonspecific band. Data were obtained from three independent experiments. (C) Immunoblot analysis of nuclear Nrf2. Nuclear fractions were prepared
from the indicated cell lines, subjected to SDS-PAGE, and analyzed by immunoblotting with antibodies against Nrf2 and lamin B (as control). Data were
obtained from three independent experiments. (D) qRT-PCR analysis. Total RNAs were prepared from JHH-5 and JHH-5_p62/ cells. Values were normal-
ized to the amount of mRNA in JHH-5 cells. (E) Immunoblot analysis of p62. Total lysates from JHH-5 and JHH-5_p62/ cells were subjected to SDS-PAGE
and analyzed by immunoblotting with p62 and actin antibodies. (F) Double immunofluorescence microscopy. The indicated cell lines were immunostained
with anti-p62 and anti-Keap1 antibodies. Bottom row: merged images of p62 (green) and Keap1 (red). Each inset is a magnified image. Bars, 10 µm.
(G) qRT-PCR analyses of Nrf2 target genes under three-dimensional (3D) culture conditions. Total RNAs were prepared from JHH5 and JHH-5_p62/ cells
under 3D culture condition. Values were normalized to the amount of mRNA in the JHH-5. Data are means ± SD of three experiments. ***, P < 0.001.
(H) Soft agar colony formation assay. The JHH-5, JHH-5_p62/, and wild-type p62- or p62 mutant (p62 T350A)–introduced JHH5_p62/ cells
were tested for their ability to grow in soft agar. The transformation was determined according to the protocol supplied by the manufacturer. RFU, relative
fluorescent unit. Data are means ± SD of three experiments. *, P < 0.05; ***, P < 0.001.
JCB • VOLUME 193 • NUMBER 2 • 2011 282
Autophagy has become a field of interest for cancer researchers
since Beclin 1, which is involved in both autophagy and endo-
cytosis (He and Levine, 2010), was reported as a tumor suppres-
sor gene (Liang et al., 1999), and mice heterozygous for this
protein developed cancers spontaneously (Qu et al., 2003; Yue
et al., 2003). How does autophagy deficiency in mouse livers
cause tumorigenesis? Systemically mosaic Atg5-deficient mice
show accumulation of deformed mitochondria followed by oxi-
dative stress and genome instability in the hepatocytes, culminating
in hepatocellular adenoma (Takamura et al., 2011). Consistent
with this mouse model, we found that loss of Atg7 in mouse liv-
ers was associated with tumorigenesis, which was probably
triggered by mitochondrial dysfunction followed by genome in-
stability (Fig. 1, D–F). In addition to these alterations, chronic
inflammation was observed in liver-specific Atg7-deficient mice
(Fig. 1, B and C). Thus, it is conceivable that the inflammatory
changes also contribute to the tumorigenesis.
Growing lines of evidence indicate that p62 is a scaffold
protein for cell survival and death-signaling pathways such as the
NF-B pathway (Sanz et al., 1999; Moscat et al., 2007; Moscat
and Diaz-Meco, 2009), Wnt signaling (Gao et al., 2010), and
apoptosis (Jin et al., 2009). Accordingly, it is plausible that
excess p62 leads to dysregulated activation of these signaling
pathways. In agreement with this hypothesis, p62 has been
identified as a component of inclusion bodies found in various
human diseases including HCC and malignant glioma (Zatloukal
et al., 2002). Furthermore, the loss of p62 suppressed Ras-
induced lung adenocarcinoma (Duran et al., 2008). Moreover,
dysregulation of NF-B signal in autophagy-incompetent cells
was due, at least in part, to accumulation of p62, which subse-
quently enhanced tumorigenesis (Mathew et al., 2009). Those
lines of evidence suggest the involvement of aberrant signals
related to p62 accumulation in tumorigenesis. We also propose
here that persistent activation of Nrf2 through excess accumula-
tion of p62 also contributes to tumor development, as described
in the following paragraph.
It has been considered over a long time that marked induc-
tion of detoxification enzymes in tumor cells is driven by con-
stant activation of the normal stress response. Recently, somatic
mutations in Keap1 and Nrf2 were identified in lung, gall blad-
der, and head and neck tumors (Padmanabhan et al., 2006;
Singh et al., 2006; Shibata et al., 2008a,b). These mutations lead
to constitutive activation of Nrf2, followed by induction of Nrf2
target genes, such as cytoprotective enzymes, antioxidant pro-
teins, and multi-drug efflux pumps, thus conferring resistance of
tumor cells to oxidative stress and anticancer agents (Shibata et al.,
2008b; Hayes and McMahon, 2009). In this regard, the present
study showed the presence of p62- and Keap1-positive aggre-
gates and induction of Nrf2 targets in HCC (Fig. 3). We also
noted that cells in areas adjacent to the tumor contained similar
aggregates, at an incidence (21.3%) comparable to that of tumor
region (25.5%). Both rates were more than threefold that of
hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and non-HCC tumors (Table I). This im-
plies that accumulation and/or aggregation of p62 and Keap1
could predispose to hepatocarcinogenesis. Importantly, the marked
induction of Nqo1 in tumor regions with massive accumulation
of p62 was not associated with increased p62 mRNA expression
(Fig. 3 C), suggesting that the excess p62 was likely related to
the suppression of autophagy. Considering cancers with somatic
mutation of Nrf2 or Keap1, some types of HCC with excess levels
of p62 would be resistant to oxidative stress and anticancer agents
through Nrf2 activation without somatic mutations in Nrf2 or
Keap1. Actually, loss of p62 in human HCC cell line JHH-5 ex-
hibited less anchorage-independent growth than parental cells,
and such defect was recovered by forced expression of p62 but
not the mutant defective in Keap1 interaction (Fig. 4 H). These
results suggest that continuous activation of Nrf2 through ex-
cess accumulation of p62 directly contributes to tumor develop-
ment. Thus, a better understanding of the cellular fluctuations
associated with p62 accumulation and/or failure of autophagy
could provide the basis for the development of new therapies
Materials and methods
The Atg7f/f;Alb-Cre mice described previously by our group (Komatsu
et al., 2007) were used in this study. Mice were housed in specific pathogen-
free facilities and the experimental protocol was approved by the Ethics
Review Committee for Animal Experimentation of the Tokyo Metropolitan
Institute of Medical Science and Juntendo University.
Cell culture and gene targeting
The media and reagents for cell culture were purchased from Life Technolo-
gies. HCC cell lines were provided by Health Science Research Resources
Bank (Osaka, Japan). Huh-1 and JHH-5 cells were grown in William’s E
medium containing 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS), 5 U/ml penicillin, and
50 µg/ml streptomycin. The 3D structures were prepared using the Algi-
Matrix 3D culture system (Invitrogen). Cells were resuspended, inoculated
at 106 cells/well, and then cultured for 7 d. The culture medium was
changed every other day. The gene targeting for p62 of Huh-1 and JHH-5
cells was conducted using the CompoZr Zinc Finger Nuclease (Sigma-Aldrich).
Wild-type p62 and p62 T350A mutant were subcloned into retrovirus vec-
tor, pMXs-puro (Kitamura et al., 2003). As described recently (Ichimura
et al., 2008), each p62 and p62 T350A vector was introduced into estab-
lished JHH-5_p62/ cells.
Livers were homogenized in 0.25 M sucrose, 10 mM Hepes, pH 7.4, and
1 mM DTT. The resultant homogenates were fractionated into 0.5% Triton
X-100 soluble and insoluble fractions. The samples were separated by the
NuPage system (Invitrogen) with 12% Bis-Tris gels and MOPS-SDS buffer
and transferred to a polyvinylidene difluoride membrane (Komatsu et al.,
2010). The antibodies for p62 (GP62, Progen Biotechnik), Keap1 (Protein-
tech Group, Inc.), Nqo1 (Abcam), Nrf2 (H-300; Santa Cruz Biotechnol-
ogy, Inc.), actin (MAB1501R; Millipore), and Lamin B (M-20; Santa Cruz
Biotechnology, Inc.) were purchased from the indicated suppliers. The rabbit
polyclonal antibodies against Atg7 (Tanida et al., 1999) and LC3 (Komatsu
et al., 2005) have been described previously.
Human tissue samples
Glass slides with tissue array of various liver diseases were purchased from
Shanghai Outdo Biotech Co.; Biochain Institute, Inc.; and Biomax, Inc. Fro-
zen tissues and the corresponding mRNAs were purchased from Shanghai
Outdo Biotech Co. This part of the study was approved by the institutional
review board of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science.
Cells grown on coverslips were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde in 0.1 M
phosphate buffer (PB), pH 7.4, for 15 min, permeabilized with 50 µg/ml
digitonin in PB for 5 min, blocked with 0.1% (vol/vol) gelatin (#G-9391;
Sigma-Aldrich) in PB for 30 min, and then incubated with primary anti-
bodies for 1 h. After washing, cells were incubated with Alexa Fluor 488–
conjugated goat anti–guinea pig and Alexa Fluor 647–conjugated goat
anti–rabbit IgG secondary antibodies (Invitrogen) for 30 min. Cells were
283Role of p62 in tumor development • Inami et al.
age were performed using the Mann-Whitney test, whereas those among
immunoreactivity and histological grades were performed using the
Kruskal-Wallis test. A P-value less than 0.05 denoted the presence of a
Online supplemental material
Fig. S1 shows inactivity of the p62 T350A mutant in a Keap1 interaction.
Table S1 lists frequency of tumorigenesis in Atg7-deficient livers. Table S2
lists proportions of p62 and Keap1 double-positive cases in human liver
diseases. Online supplemental material is available at http://www.jcb
We thank A. Yamada, K. Kanno, and A. Yabashi (Fukushima Medical Univer-
sity School of Medicine) and T. Mita (Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical
Science) for their help in histological studies.
This work was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Specially Promoted Re-
search (to K. Tanaka) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science
and Technology, Japan; Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading
Researchers (to M. Komatsu); and the Global Research Laboratory Grant of the
National Research Foundation of Korea (to M.-S. Lee and M. Komatsu).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Submitted: 7 February 2011
Accepted: 18 March 2011
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imaged using a laser-scanning microscope (LSM510 META; Carl Zeiss,
Inc.) with a Plan Apochromat 63x NA 1.4 oil differential interference con-
trast objective lens. Image contrast and brightness were adjusted using
Photoshop CS4 (Adobe).
Fixation and embedding procedures for immunohistochemistry were
described previously (Waguri and Komatsu, 2009). In brief, mouse livers
were quickly excised, cut into small pieces, and then fixed by immersing in
4% paraformaldehyde/4% sucrose in PB. After rinsing, they were embedded
in paraffin for H&E and Keap1 and p62 stainings, or in OCT compound for
the staining of phospho-histone H2A.X. As antigen-retrieval procedures, par-
affin sections were autoclaved for 10 min at 121°C in buffer at pH 9.0 and
6.0 (Nichirei) for Keap1 and p62 stainings, respectively, whereas cryosec-
tions were treated with pepsin solution (Nichirei) for 10 min at 37°C for the
staining of phospho-histone H2A.X. Sections were blocked and incubated for
2–3 d at 4°C with the following primary antibodies: guinea pig polyclonal
antibody against p62 (Progen), rabbit polyclonal antibody against Keap1
(Proteintech Group), and rabbit monoclonal antibody against phospho-
histone H2A.X (Cell Signaling Technology). They were then incubated for 1 h
with HRP-conjugated donkey anti–guinea pig IgG (Millipore) or goat anti–
rabbit IgG (Histofine simple stain mouse MAX-PO[R]; Nichirei) followed by
the diaminobenzidine reaction. Double immunofluorescence for p62 and
Keap1 was performed using Alexa 549–conjugated goat anti–guinea pig
IgG (Invitrogen) and Dylight 488–conjugated donkey anti–rabbit IgG (Jack-
son ImmunoResearch Laboratories, Inc.), respectively. Cytochrome c oxidase
(COX) staining was performed as reported previously (Seligman et al., 1968;
Inoue et al., 2000). In brief, air-dried cryosections (10 µm thick) were incu-
bated in reaction medium: 5 mg diaminobenzidine tetrahydrochloride (DAB),
9 ml sodium phosphate buffer (0.05 M, pH 7.4), 1 ml catalase (20 µg/ml),
10 mg cytochrome c, and 750 mg sucrose. COX activity was visualized as a
brown DAB reaction product.
Images were acquired with a microscope (BX51; Olympus) equipped
with a 60x objective lens (PlanApoN, NA 1.42, oil; Olympus) and a cooled
CCD camera system (DP-71; Olympus), or a laser-scanning confocal micro-
scope (FV1000; Olympus) with a 60x objective lens (UPlanSApo, NA 1.35,
oil; Olympus). After image acquisition, contrast and brightness were adjusted
using Photoshop CS4 (Adobe).
For conventional electron microscopy, small pieces of the liver were fixed by
immersing in 2% paraformaldehyde/2% glutaraldehyde in PB, post-fixed
with 1% OsO4, and embedded in Epon 812 (Waguri and Komatsu, 2009).
After sectioning and staining with uranyl acetate and lead citrate, they were
observed under an electron microscope (JEM 1200EX; JEOL).
Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR)
Using a Transcriptor First Strand cDNA Synthesis kit (Roche), the cDNA
was synthesized from 1 µg of total RNA. Quantitative PCR was performed
using LightCycler 480 Probes Master (Roche) in a LightCycler 480 (Roche).
Signals were normalized to -glucuronidase (GUS) for mouse samples and
to glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) for human sam-
ples. The sequences of the primers used for mouse samples were: Nqo1F,
5-AGCGTTCGGTATTACGATCC-3; Nqo1R, 5-AGTACAATCAGGGCTC-
TTCTCG-3; Gstm1F, 5-CTACCTTGCCCGAAAGCAC-3; Gstm1R, 5-ATG-
TCTGCACGGATCCTCTC-3; GusF, 5-CTCTGGTGGCCTTACCTGA-3;
and GusR, 5-CTCAGTTGTTGTCACCTTCACC-3. The sequences of the
primers used for human samples were: Nqo1F, 5-AGCGTTCGGTATTACG-
ATCC-3; Nqo1R, 5-AGTACAATCAGGGCTCTTCTCG-3; Gstm1F, 5-TGC-
CCATGATACTGGGGTA-3; Gstm1R, 5-GCCACTGGCTTCTGTCATAAT-3;
p62F, 5-CAGAGAAGCCCATGGACAG-3; p62R, 5-AGCTGCCTTG-
TACCCACATC-3; GapdhF, 5-CTCTGGTGGCCTTACCTGA-3; and
Transformation in soft agar
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CytoSelect 96-well cell transformation assay kit (Cell Biolabs, Inc.). In brief,
cells were plated in soft agar in a 96-well plate at 5,000 cells/well and
cultured for 5 d. The transformation was determined according to the pro-
tocol provided by the manufacturer.
Values are mean ± SD, including those displayed in the graphs. Statisti-
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