Theranostics 2019; 9(20):5810-5827. doi:10.7150/thno.34973 This issue

Research Paper

TCF12 promotes the tumorigenesis and metastasis of hepatocellular carcinoma via upregulation of CXCR4 expression

Jing Yang1*, Lili Zhang1*, Zhiyuan Jiang1, Chao Ge1, Fangyu Zhao1, Jingyi Jiang2, Hua Tian1, Taoyang Chen3, Haiyang Xie4, Ying Cui5, Ming Yao1, Hong Li1, Jinjun Li1✉

1. State Key Laboratory of Oncogenes and Related Genes, Shanghai Cancer Institute, Renji Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, Shanghai 200032, China
2. Testing Center, Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Changzhou 213000, China
3. Qi Dong Liver Cancer Institute, Qi Dong 226200, China
4. Department of General Surgery, the First Affiliated Hospital, School of Medicine, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310000, China
5. Cancer Institute of Guangxi, Nanning 530027, China
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Yang J, Zhang L, Jiang Z, Ge C, Zhao F, Jiang J, Tian H, Chen T, Xie H, Cui Y, Yao M, Li H, Li J. TCF12 promotes the tumorigenesis and metastasis of hepatocellular carcinoma via upregulation of CXCR4 expression. Theranostics 2019; 9(20):5810-5827. doi:10.7150/thno.34973. Available from

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Graphic abstract

TCF12, which is known to be involved in the regulation of cell growth and differentiation, has been reported to function as an oncogene or a tumor suppressor gene in the progression of various malignant tumors. However, its function and molecular mechanism in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remain unclear.

Methods: Stable ectopic TCF12 expression or knockdown in HCC cell lines was established by lentiviral infection. Then, MTT, colony formation, migration, invasion and HUVECs tube formation assays as well as an orthotopic xenograft model were used to investigate the biologic function of TCF12 in HCC cells in vitro and in vivo. Subsequently, RNA-Seq analysis was utilized to explore the target genes regulated by TCF12. RT-qPCR, western blotting, a dual-luciferase reporter assay, Ch-IP, CHIP-Seq and functional rescue experiments were used to confirm the target gene regulated by TCF12. Finally, RT-qPCR, western blot and immunohistochemical (IHC) staining were performed to detect the expression level of TCF12 and to analyze the correlation of TCF12 with downstream genes as well as the clinical significance of TCF12 in human primary HCC.

Results: Our functional studies revealed that stable overexpression of TCF12 in human HCC cells enhanced cell proliferation, migration and invasion in vitro and in vivo, whereas knockdown of TCF12 showed opposing effects. Mechanistically, CXCR4 was a downstream target of TCF12, and TCF12 directly bound to the CXCR4 promoter to regulate its expression. Moreover, CXCR4, with its ligand CXCL12, played a critical role in tumor progression induced by TCF12 via activation of the MAPK/ERK and PI3K/AKT signaling pathways. Clinically, IHC analysis revealed that TCF12 was significantly associated with poor survival of HCC patients and that TCF12 expression was closely correlated with CXCR4 expression in primary HCC tissues.

Conclusion: Our findings are the first to indicate that TCF12 could promote the tumorigenesis and progression of HCC mainly by upregulating CXCR4 expression and is a prognostic indicator for patients with HCC.

Keywords: hepatocellular carcinoma, TCF12, CXCR4, CXCL12