Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts Provide a Stromal Niche for Liver Cancer Organoids That Confers Trophic Effects and Therapy Resistance

Jin Liu, Pengfei Li, L (Liang) Wang, Li Li, Zhouhong Ge, Laura Noordam, Ruby Lieshout, Monique Verstegen, Buyun Ma, Jiahang Su, Qin Yang, Ruyi Zhang, Estella Zhou, Lucia Campos Carrascosa, Dave Sprengers, JNM IJzermans, Ron Smits, Jaap Kwekkeboom, Luc Laan, Maikel PeppelenboschQiuwei Pan, Wanlu Cao

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Abstract

Background & Aims: Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) play a key role in the cancer process, but the research progress is hampered by the paucity of preclinical models that are essential for mechanistic dissection of cancer cell–CAF interactions. Here, we aimed to establish 3-dimensional (3D) organotypic co-cultures of primary liver tumor–derived organoids with CAFs, and to understand their interactions and the response to treatment. Methods: Liver tumor organoids and CAFs were cultured from murine and human primary liver tumors. 3D co-culture models of tumor organoids with CAFs and Transwell culture systems were established in vitro. A xenograft model was used to investigate the cell–cell interactions in vivo. Gene expression analysis of CAF markers in our hepatocellular carcinoma cohort and an online liver cancer database indicated the clinical relevance of CAFs. Results: To functionally investigate the interactions of liver cancer cells with CAFs, we successfully established murine and human 3D co-culture models of liver tumor organoids with CAFs. CAFs promoted tumor organoid growth in co-culture with direct cell–cell contact and in a Transwell system via paracrine signaling. Vice versa, cancer cells secrete paracrine factors regulating CAF physiology. Co-transplantation of CAFs with liver tumor organoids of mouse or human origin promoted tumor growth in xenograft models. Moreover, tumor organoids conferred resistance to clinically used anticancer drugs including sorafenib, regorafenib, and 5-fluorouracil in the presence of CAFs, or the conditioned medium of CAFs. Conclusions: We successfully established murine and human 3D co-culture models and have shown robust effects of CAFs in liver cancer nurturing and treatment resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-431
Number of pages25
JournalCellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Volume11
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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