Hepatocyte-derived VEGFA accelerates the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to hepatocellular carcinoma via activating hepatic stellate cells
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is emerging as an epidemic risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The progression of NAFLD to HCC is closely associated with paracrine communication among hepatic cells. Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) plays a key role in NAFLD and HCC; however, the cellular communication of VEGFA in the pathological transition from NAFLD to HCC remains unclear. Here, we found that VEGFA elevation was considerably distributed in hepatocytes of clinical and murine NAFLD-HCC specimens. Notably, progression from NAFLD to HCC was attenuated in hepatocyte-specific deletion of Vegfa (VegfaΔhep) mice. Mechanistically, VEGFA activated human hepatic stellate cell (HSC) LX2 into a fibrogenic phenotype via VEGF-VEGFR signaling in fatty acid medium, and HSC activation was largely attenuated in VegfaΔhep mice during NAFLD-HCC progression. Additionally, a positive correlation between VEGFA and hepatic fibrosis was observed in the NAFLD-HCC cohort, but not in the HBV-HCC cohort. Moreover, LX2 cells could be activated by conditioned medium from NAFLD-derived organoids, but not from HBV livers, whereas this activation was blocked by a VEGFA antibody. In summary, our findings reveal that hepatocyte-derived VEGFA contributes to NAFLD-HCC development by activating HSCs and highlight the potential of precisely targeting hepatocytic VEGFA as a promising therapeutic strategy for NAFLD-HCC.