Theranostics 2021; 11(12):5759-5777. doi:10.7150/thno.57659 This issue

Research Paper

Homeobox B5 promotes metastasis and poor prognosis in Hepatocellular Carcinoma, via FGFR4 and CXCL1 upregulation

Qin He1, Wenjie Huang2, Danfei Liu1, Tongyue Zhang1, Yijun Wang1, Xiaoyu Ji1, Meng Xie1, Mengyu Sun1, Dean Tian1, Mei Liu1, Limin Xia1✉

1. Department of Gastroenterology, Institute of Liver and Gastrointestinal Diseases, Hubei Key Laboratory of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Diseases, Tongji Hospital of Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430030, Hubei Province, China.
2. Hubei Key Laboratory of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Diseases; Hepatic Surgery Center, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Clinical Medicine Research Center for Hepatic Surgery of Hubei Province; Key Laboratory of Organ Transplantation, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Public Health, Wuhan, Hubei, 430030, China.

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He Q, Huang W, Liu D, Zhang T, Wang Y, Ji X, Xie M, Sun M, Tian D, Liu M, Xia L. Homeobox B5 promotes metastasis and poor prognosis in Hepatocellular Carcinoma, via FGFR4 and CXCL1 upregulation. Theranostics 2021; 11(12):5759-5777. doi:10.7150/thno.57659. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Background: Since metastasis remains the main reason for HCC-associated death, a better understanding of molecular mechanism underlying HCC metastasis is urgently needed. Here, we elucidated the role of Homeobox B5 (HOXB5), a member of the HOX transcriptional factor family, in promoting HCC metastasis.

Method: The expression of HOXB5 and its functional targets fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 (FGFR4) and C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 1 (CXCL1) were detected by immunohistochemistry. Luciferase reporter and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays were performed to measure the transcriptional regulation of target genes by HOXB5. The effects of FGFR4 and CXCL1 on HOXB5-mediated metastasis were analyzed by an orthotopic metastasis model.

Results: Elevated expression of HOXB5 had a positive correlation with poor tumour differentiation, higher TNM stage, and indicated unfavorable prognosis. Overexpression of HOXB5 promoted HCC metastasis through transactivating FGFR4 and CXCL1 expression, whereas knockdown of FGFR4 and CXCL1 decreased HOXB5-enhanced HCC metastasis. Moreover, HOXB5 overexpression in HCC cells promoted myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) infiltration through CXCL1/CXCR2 axis. Either depletion of MDSCs by anti-Gr1 or blocking CXCL1-CXCR2 axis by CXCR2 inhibitor impaired HOXB5-mediated HCC metastasis. In addition, fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19) contributed to the HOXB5 upregulation through PI3K/AKT/HIF1α pathway. Overexpression of FGF15 (an analog of FGF19 in mouse) promoted HCC metastasis, whereas knockdown of HOXB5 significantly inhibited FGF15-enhanced HCC metastasis in immunocompetent mice. HOXB5 expression was positively associated with CXCL1 expression and intratumoral MDSCs accumulation in human HCC tissues. Patients who co-expressed HOXB5/CXCL1 or HOXB5/CD11b exhibited the worst prognosis. Furthermore, the combination of FGFR4 inhibitor BLU-554 and CXCR2 inhibitor SB265610 dramatically decreased HOXB5-mediated HCC metastasis.

Conclusion: HOXB5 was a potential prognostic biomarker in HCC patients and targeting this loop may provide a promising treatment strategy for the inhibition of HOXB5-mediated HCC metastasis.

Keywords: homeobox B5, C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 1, myeloidderived suppressor cell, BLU-554, SB265610