The molecular mechanisms underlying hepatocarcinogenesis in chronic viral hepatitis are poorly understood. A potential tumorigenic pathway could involve protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and protein arginine methyltransferase 1 (PRMT1), because both enzymes are dysregulated in chronic hepatitis C, and both enzymes have been involved in chromatin remodeling and DNA damage repair. We used cell lines that allow the inducible expression of hepatitis C virus proteins (UHCV57.3) and of the catalytic subunit of PP2A (UPP2A-C8) as well as Huh7.5 cells infected with recombinant cell culture-derived hepatitis C virus (HCVcc) to study epigenetic histone modifications and DNA damage repair. The induction of viral proteins, the overexpression of PP2Ac, or the infection of Huh7.5 cells with HCVcc resulted in an inhibition of histone H4 methylation/acetylation and histone H2AX phosphorylation, in a significantly changed expression of genes important for hepatocarcinogenesis, and inhibited DNA damage repair. Overexpression of PP2Ac in NIH-3T3 cells increased anchorage-independent growth. These changes were partially reversed by the treatment of cells with the methyl-group donor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).
Conclusion: Hepatitis C virus-induced overexpression of PP2Ac contributes to hepatocarcinogenesis through dysregulation of epigenetic histone modifications. The correction of defective histone modifications by S-adenosyl-L-methionine makes this drug a candidate for chemopreventive therapies in patients with chronic hepatitis C who are at risk for developing hepatocellular carcinoma.