• Ex Vivo/In vivo Gene Editing in Hepatocytes Using "All-in-One" CRISPR-Adeno-Associated Virus Vectors with a Self-Linearizing Repair Template.

      Krooss, Simon Alexander; Dai, Zhen; Schmidt, Florian; Rovai, Alice; Fakhiri, Julia; Dhingra, Akshay; Yuan, Qinggong; Yang, Taihua; Balakrishnan, Asha; Steinbrück, Lars; et al. (Cell Press/Elsevier, 2020-01-24)
      Adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based vectors are considered efficient and safe gene delivery systems in gene therapy. We combined two guide RNA genes, Cas9, and a self-linearizing repair template in one vector (AIO-SL) to correct fumarylacetoacetate hydrolase (FAH) deficiency in mice. The vector genome of 5.73 kb was packaged into VP2-depleted AAV particles (AAV2/8ΔVP2), which, however, did not improve cargo capacity. Reprogrammed hepatocytes were treated with AIO-SL.AAV2ΔVP2 and subsequently transplanted, resulting in large clusters of FAH-positive hepatocytes. Direct injection of AIO-SL.AAV8ΔVP2 likewise led to FAH expression and long-term survival. The AIO-SL vector achieved an ∼6-fold higher degree of template integration than vectors without template self-linearization. Subsequent analysis revealed that AAV8 particles, in contrast to AAV2, incorporate oversized genomes distinctly greater than 5.2 kb. Finally, our AAV8-based vector represents a promising tool for gene editing strategies to correct monogenic liver diseases requiring (large) fragment removal and/or simultaneous sequence replacement.
    • Hepatocyte-specific suppression of microRNA-221-3p mitigates liver fibrosis.

      Tsay, Hsin-Chieh; Yuan, Qinggong; Balakrishnan, Asha; Kaiser, Marina; Möbus, Selina; Kozdrowska, Emilia; Farid, Marwa; Tegtmeyer, Pia-Katharina; Borst, Katharina; Vondran, Florian W R; et al. (Elsevier, 2018-12-22)
      Fibrosis, a cardinal feature of a dysfunctional liver, significantly contributes to the ever-increasing mortality due to end-stage chronic liver diseases. The crosstalk between hepatocytes and hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) plays a key role in the progression of fibrosis. Although ample efforts have been devoted to elucidate the functions of HSCs during liver fibrosis, the regulatory functions of hepatocytes remain elusive. Using an unbiased functional microRNA (miRNA) screening, we investigated the ability of hepatocytes to regulate fibrosis by fine-tuning gene expression via miRNA modulation. The in vivo functional analyses were performed by inhibiting miRNA in hepatocytes using adeno-associated virus in carbon-tetrachloride- and 3,5-di-diethoxycarbonyl-1,4-dihydrocollidine-induced liver fibrosis. Blocking miRNA-221-3p function in hepatocytes during chronic liver injury facilitated recovery of the liver and faster resolution of the deposited extracellular matrix. Furthermore, we demonstrate that reduced secretion of C-C motif chemokine ligand 2, as a result of post-transcriptional regulation of GNAI2 (G protein alpha inhibiting activity polypeptide 2) by miRNA-221-3p, mitigates liver fibrosis. Collectively, miRNA modulation in hepatocytes, an easy-to-target cell type in the liver, may serve as a potential therapeutic approach for liver fibrosis.
    • Homologous recombination mediates stable Fah gene integration and phenotypic correction in tyrosinaemia mouse-model.

      Junge, Norman; Yuan, Qinggong; Vu, Thu Huong; Krooss, Simon; Bednarski, Christien; Balakrishnan, Asha; Cathomen, Toni; Manns, Michael P; Baumann, Ulrich; Sharma, Amar Deep; et al. (2018-02-27)
      To stably correct tyrosinaemia in proliferating livers of fumarylacetoacetate-hydrolase knockout (Fah-/-)mice by homologous-recombination-mediated targeted addition of theFahgene.
    • Let-7c inhibits cholangiocarcinoma growth but promotes tumor cell invasion and growth at extrahepatic sites.

      Xie, Yu; Zhang, Hang; Guo, Xing-Jun; Feng, Ye-Chen; He, Rui-Zhi; Li, Xu; Yu, Shuo; Zhao, Yan; Shen, Ming; Zhu, Feng; et al. (Springer Nature, 2018-02-14)
      Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is a cancer type with high postoperative relapse rates and poor long-term survival largely due to tumor invasion, distant metastasis, and multidrug resistance. Deregulated microRNAs (miRNAs) are implicated in several cancer types including CCA. The specific roles of the miRNA let-7c in cholangiocarcinoma are not known and need to be further elucidated. In our translational study we show that microRNA let-7c expression was significantly downregulated in human cholangiocarcinoma tissues when compared to adjacent tissues of the same patient. Let-7c inhibited the tumorigenic properties of cholangiocarcinoma cells including their self-renewal capacity and sphere formation in vitro and subcutaneous cancer cell growth in vivo. Ectopic let-7c overexpression suppressed migration and invasion capacities of cholangiocarcinoma cell lines in vitro, however, promoted distant invasiveness in vivo. Furthermore, we found that let-7c regulated the aforementioned malignant biological properties, at least in part, through regulation of EZH2 protein expression and through the DVL3/β-catenin axis. The miRNA let-7c thus plays an important dual role in regulating tumorigenic and metastatic abilities of human cholangiocarcinoma through mechanisms involving EZH2 protein and the DVL3/β-catenin axis.
    • MicroRNA-125b-5p Regulates Hepatocyte Proliferation During the Termination Phase of Liver Regeneration.

      Yang, Dakai; Dai, Zhen; Yang, Taihua; Balakrishnan, Asha; Yuan, Qinggong; Vondran, Florian W R; Manns, Michael P; Ott, Michael; Cantz, Tobias; Sharma, Amar Deep; et al. (Wiley, 2020-09-15)
      The ability of the liver to regenerate and restore mass limits the increasing mortality rate due to life-threatening liver diseases. Successful liver regeneration is accomplished in multiple stages, of which the priming and proliferation phases are well studied. However, the regulatory pathways, specifically microRNA (miRNA)-mediated posttranscriptional regulation, which prevent uncontrolled proliferation and mediate the termination of liver regeneration, are not well understood. We identified differentially regulated miRNAs during the termination phase after 2/3 partial hepatectomy (PH) in mice, which is a well-established mouse model of liver regeneration. We further evaluated the function of differentially regulated miRNAs in primary mouse hepatocytes by using mimics and inhibitors and in vivo by using adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 8. A candidate miRNA target was identified by messenger RNA array in silico analyses and validated in primary mouse and human hepatocytes. Using miRNA profiling, we discovered miR-125b-5p as a novel regulator of hepatocyte proliferation in the late phase of liver regeneration. AAV-mediated miR-125b-5p delivery in mice enhanced the endogenous regenerative capacity and resulted in improved restoration of liver mass after 2/3 PH. Further, we found that ankyrin repeat and BTB/POZ domain containing protein 1 (Abtb1) is a direct target of miR-125b-5p in primary mouse and human hepatocytes and contributes to the pro-proliferative activity of miR-125b-5p by forkhead box G1 (FOXG1) and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (p21) pathway. Conclusion: miR-125b-5p has an important role in regulating hepatocyte proliferation in the termination phase of liver regeneration and may serve as a potential therapeutic target in various liver diseases that often exhibit deregulated hepatocyte proliferation.
    • MicroRNA-221: A Fine Tuner and Potential Biomarker of Chronic Liver Injury.

      Markovic, Jovana; Sharma, Amar Deep; Balakrishnan, Asha; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (MDPI, 2020-07-23)
      The last decade has witnessed significant advancements in our understanding of how small noncoding RNAs, such as microRNAs (miRNAs), regulate disease progression. One such miRNA, miR-221, has been shown to play a key role in the progression of liver fibrosis, a common feature of most liver diseases. Many reports have demonstrated the upregulation of miR-221 in liver fibrosis caused by multiple etiologies such as viral infections and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Inhibition of miR-221 via different strategies has shown promising results in terms of the suppression of fibrogenic gene signatures in vitro, as well as in vivo, in independent mouse models of liver fibrosis. In addition, miR-221 has also been suggested as a noninvasive serum biomarker for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. In this review, we discuss the biology of miR-221, its significance and use as a biomarker during progression of liver fibrosis, and finally, potential and robust approaches that can be utilized to suppress liver fibrosis via inhibition of miR-221.
    • MicroRNA-342-3p is a potent tumour suppressor in hepatocellular carcinoma

      Komoll, Ronja Melinda; Hu, Qingluan; Olarewaju, Olaniyi; von Döhlen, Lena; Yuan, Qinggong; Xie, Yu; Tsay, Hsin Chieh; Daon, Joel; Qin, Renyi; Manns, Michael P; et al. (2021-01-01)
      Background & aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a cancer with multiple aetiologies and widespread prevalence. Largely refractory to current treatments, HCC is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators in HCCs. We aimed to identify tumour suppressor miRNAs during tumour regression in a conditional c-MYC-driven mouse model (LT2/MYC) of HCC, and to evaluate their therapeutic potential for HCC treatment. Methods: We performed miRNA expression profiling of developed and regressing LT2/MYC tumours and in-depth in vitro gain- and loss-of-function analyses. The effect of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector-mediated miR-342-3p treatment was evaluated in 3 HCC mouse models. Results: We identified miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC, with increased expression in regressing tumours. Forced miR-342-3p expression in hepatoma cells showed significantly decreased cell proliferation, migration, and colony formation. In vivo administration of AAV-miR-342-3p led to significant attenuation of tumour development and increased overall survival. We identified monocarboxylic acid transporter 1 (MCT1) as a bona fide target of miR-342-3p in HCC. We show that the tumour suppressor role of miR-342-3p is executed partly by modulating the lactate transport function of MCT1. Importantly, we find miR-342-3p downregulated in tumours from patients with HCC compared with matched non-tumour tissues, inversely correlating with MCT1 expression. We observed similar findings in TCGA-LIHC data. Conclusions: In our study, we identified and validated miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC. We demonstrated its therapeutic efficacy in significantly attenuating tumour development, and prolonging survival, in different HCC mouse models. Identification of miR-342-3p as an effective tumour suppressor opens a therapeutic avenue for miRNA-mediated attenuation of HCC development. Lay summary: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, affects diverse populations and has a global impact, being the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. There are currently no systemic therapies for HCC that can significantly prolong long-term survival. Thus, novel effective treatment options are urgently required. To understand the molecular basis of tumour regression, we compared tumours and regressing liver tumours in mice. We show that a small non-coding miRNA, miR-342-3p, is a tumour suppressor in HCC. Expression of miR-342-3p is low in tumours and high in regressing tumours. When miR-342-3p is delivered to mouse livers with HCC, it can significantly slow down liver tumour development and improve survival. Our study highlights the promising therapeutic potential of miR-342-3p intervention in HCC.
    • Therapeutic HNF4A mRNA attenuates liver fibrosis in a preclinical model.

      Yang, Taihua; Poenisch, Marion; Khanal, Rajendra; Hu, Qingluan; Dai, Zhen; Li, Ruomeng; Song, Guangqi; Yuan, Qinggong; Yao, Qunyan; Shen, Xizhong; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-08-25)
      Background & aims: Therapeutic targeting of injuries that require transient restoration of proteins by mRNA delivery is an attractive approach that, until recently, has remained poorly explored. In this study, we examined the therapeutic utility of mRNA delivery for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. Specifically, we aimed to demonstrate the therapeutic efficacy of human hepatocyte nuclear factor alpha (HNF4A) mRNA in mouse models of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Methods: We investigated restoration of hepatocyte functions by HNF4A mRNA transfection in vitro, and analyzed the attenuation of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis in multiple mouse models, by delivering hepatocyte-targeted biodegradable lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) encapsulating HNF4A mRNA. To identify potential mechanisms of action, we performed microarray-based gene expression profiling, single-cell RNA sequencing, and chromatin immunoprecipitation. We used primary liver cells and human liver buds for additional functional validation. Results: Expression of HNF4A mRNA led to restoration of the metabolic activity of fibrotic primary murine and human hepatocytes in vitro. Repeated in vivo delivery of LNP-encapsulated HNF4A mRNA induced a robust inhibition of fibrogenesis in 4 independent mouse models of hepatotoxin- and cholestasis-induced liver fibrosis. Mechanistically, we discovered that paraoxonase 1 is a direct target of HNF4A and it contributes to HNF4A-mediated attenuation of liver fibrosis via modulation of liver macrophages and hepatic stellate cells. Conclusion: Collectively, our findings provide the first direct preclinical evidence of the applicability of HNF4A mRNA therapeutics for the treatment of fibrosis in the liver. Lay summary: Liver fibrosis and cirrhosis remain unmet medical needs and contribute to high mortality worldwide. Herein, we take advantage of a promising therapeutic approach to treat liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. We demonstrate that restoration of a key gene, HNF4A, via mRNA encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles decreased injury in multiple mouse models of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Our study provides proof-of-concept that mRNA therapy is a promising strategy for reversing liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.