Oncogenic cell tagging and single-cell transcriptomics reveal cell type-specific and time-resolved responses to Vhl inactivation in the kidney.

Defining the initial events in oncogenesis and the cellular responses they entrain, even in advance of morphological abnormality, is a fundamental challenge in understanding cancer initiation. As a paradigm to address this, we longitudinally studied the changes induced by loss of the tumor suppressor gene von Hippel Lindau (VHL), which ultimately drives clear cell renal cell carcinoma. Vhl inactivation was directly coupled to expression of a tdTomato reporter within a single allele, allowing accurate visualization of affected cells in their native context and retrieval from the kidney for single-cell RNA-sequencing. This strategy uncovered cell-type specific responses to Vhl inactivation, defined a proximal tubular cell class with oncogenic potential, and revealed longer term adaptive changes in the renal epithelium and the interstitium. Oncogenic cell tagging also revealed markedly heterogeneous cellular effects including time-limited proliferation and elimination of specific cell types. Overall, this study reports an experimental strategy for understanding oncogenic processes in which cells bearing genetic alterations can be generated in their native context, marked, and analyzed over time. The observed effects of loss of Vhl in kidney cells provide insights into VHL tumor suppressor action and development of renal cell carcinoma.

Cancer research. 2024 Mar 19 [Epub ahead of print]

Samvid Kurlekar, Joanna D C C Lima, Ran Li, Olivia Lombardi, Norma Masson, Ayslan B Barros, Virginia Pontecorvi, David R Mole, Christopher W Pugh, Julie Adam, Peter J Ratcliffe

University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.