Iron in association with reactive oxygen species (ROS) is highly toxic, aggravating oxidative stress reactions. Increased iron not only plays an important role in the progression of hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) but also in common liver diseases such as chronic hepatitis C. The underlying mechanisms of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-mediated iron accumulation, however, are poorly understood. We introduce an in vitro-targeted approach to identify ROS/iron-regulated genes in patients with HCV using a genome-wide DNA microarray. The sensitivity of the 32,231 complementary DNA clone-carrying microarray was approximately 20% as estimated by detecting target genes of the genome-wide transcription factor hypoxia inducible factor 1alpha. Upon in vitro challenge to iron and oxidative stress, 265 iron-related and 1326 ROS-related genes could be identified in HepG2 cells; 233 significantly regulated genes were found in patients with mild (HCV) or severe (HH) iron deposition. Notably, 17 of the in vitro-selected genes corresponded to the genes identified in patients with HCV or HH. Among them, natriuretic peptide precursor B (NPPB) was the only iron-regulated gene identified in vitro that was differentially regulated between HCV and HH. Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction confirmed most of the microarray-identified genes in an even larger group of patients (n = 12). In patients with HCV, these included genes that are associated with RNA processing (MED9/NFAT, NSUN2), proliferation, differentiation, hypoxia, or iron metabolism (ISG20, MIG6, HIG2, CA9, NDRG1), whereas none of the nine known iron-related genes showed significant differences between HCV and HH.
Conclusion: Although high-density microarray technology is less suitable for routine liver diagnosis, its use in combination with prior in vitro selection is a powerful approach to identify candidate genes relevant for liver disease.