Doublecortin-like kinase 1 promotes hepatocyte clonogenicity and oncogenic programming via non-canonical β-catenin-dependent mechanism

Naushad Ali, Charles B. Nguyen, Parthasarathy Chandrakesan, Roman F. Wolf, Dongfeng Qu, Randal May, Tatiana Goretsky, Javid Fazili, Terrence A. Barrett, Min Li, Mark M. Huycke, Michael S. Bronze, Courtney W. Houchen

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7 Scopus citations


Chronic liver injury is a risk factor for cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The molecular mechanisms that regulate the decision between normal injury repair and neoplastic initiation are unclear. Doublecortin-like kinase 1 (DCLK1), a tumor stem cell marker, is induced during cirrhosis and HCC. Here, we demonstrate that DCLK1-overexpressing primary human hepatocytes formed spheroids in suspension cultures. Spheroids derived from DCLK1-overexpressing hepatoma cells showed high level expression of active β-catenin, α-fetoprotein, and SOX9, suggesting that DCLK1 overexpression induces clonogenicity and dedifferentiated phenotypes in hepatoma cells. DCLK1 overexpression in hepatoma cells also increased phosphorylation of GSK-3β at Ser9. This was associated with an induction of a 48-kDa active β-catenin with a preserved hypophosphorylated N-terminus that interacted with nuclear TCF-4 resulting in luciferase reporter activity and cyclin D1 expression. DCLK1 downregulation inhibited 48-kDa β-catenin expression. The proteasome inhibitor bortezomib did not block the 48-kDa β-catenin, instead, caused a threefold accumulation, suggesting a proteasome-independent mechanism. Liver tissues from patients with cirrhosis and HCC revealed epithelial co-staining of DCLK1 and active β-catenin, and cleaved E-cadherin. Repopulated DCLK1-overexpressing primary human hepatocytes in humanized FRG mouse livers demonstrated active β-catenin. In conclusion, DCLK1 regulates oncogenic signaling and clonogenicity of hepatocytes by a novel non-canonical/atypical β-catenin-dependent mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10578
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

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