We previously utilized a Sleeping Beauty (SB) transposon mutagenesis screen to discover novel drivers of HCC. This approach identified recurrent mutations within the Dlk1-Dio3 imprinted domain, indicating that alteration of one or more elements within the domain provides a selective advantage to cells during the process of hepatocarcinogenesis. For the current study, we performed transcriptome and small RNA sequencing to profile gene expression in SB-induced HCCs in an attempt to clarify the genetic element(s) contributing to tumorigenesis. We identified strong induction of Retrotransposon-like 1 (Rtl1) expression as the only consistent alteration detected in all SB-induced tumors with Dlk1-Dio3 integrations, suggesting that Rtl1 activation serves as a driver of HCC. While previous studies have identified correlations between disrupted expression of multiple Dlk1-Dio3 domain members and HCC, we show here that direct modulation of a single domain member, Rtl1, can promote hepatocarcinogenesis in vivo. Overexpression of Rtl1 in the livers of adult mice using a hydrodynamic gene delivery technique resulted in highly penetrant (86%) tumor formation. Additionally, we detected overexpression of RTL1 in 30% of analyzed human HCC samples, indicating the potential relevance of this locus as a therapeutic target for patients. The Rtl1 locus is evolutionarily derived from the domestication of a retrotransposon. In addition to identifying Rtl1 as a novel driver of HCC, our study represents one of the first direct in vivo demonstrations of a role for such a co-opted genetic element in promoting carcinogenesis.
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research