Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) ranges from steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which often progresses to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) through a largely undefined mechanism. NASH and HCC depend on inflammatory signaling, whose master regulator is the NFκB transcription factor family, activated by canonical and non-canonical pathways.
Here, we investigated non-canonical NFκB-inducing kinase (NIK/MAP3K14) in metabolic NASH, NASH to HCC transition, and DEN-induced HCC. To this end, we performed dietary and chemical interventions in mice that were analyzed via single nucleus sequencing, gene expression and histochemical methods. Ultimately, we verified our mouse results in human patient samples.
We revealed that hepatocyte-specific NIK deficiency (NIKLKO) ameliorated metabolic NASH complications and reduced hepatocarcinogenesis, independent of its role in the NFκB pathway. Instead, hepatic NIK attenuated hepatoprotective JAK2/STAT5 signaling that is a prerequisite for NASH and NASH to HCC progression in mice and humans.
Our data suggest NIK-mediated inhibitory JAK2 phosphorylation at serine 633 that might be amenable for future therapeutic interventions in patients.