Insights into a molecular pathway associated with aggressive tumours in liver cancer are reported in Nature Communications this week. The findings could help to identify new potential therapeutic targets for certain types of cancers.
Serum biomarkers provide an alternative method to invasive clinical tests for the monitoring of liver cancer. The most widely used biomarker is alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), which is linked with aggressive tumour behaviour; however, it remains to be determined whether this association is coincidental or not. Kentaro Kojima and colleagues show that a liver-specific microRNA (miR122) and a transcription factor (CUX1) regulate AFP expression in mouse and human liver cancer cells. They demonstrate that loss of miR122 causes elevation of serum AFP levels and leads to more aggressive liver tumours. These findings define complex processes that underlie the link between AFP and tumour aggressiveness and indicate that miR122 and CUX1 may represent therapeutic targets in liver cancer.