Background: Centromere protein A (CENP-A) plays important roles in cell-cycle regulation and genetic stability. Herein, we aimed to investigate its expression pattern, clinical significance, and biological function in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Methodology/principal findings: CENP-A expression at the mRNA and protein levels was examined in 20 pairs of fresh HCCs and corresponding nontumor liver tissues. Immunohistochemistry for CENP-A was performed on 80 paraffin-embedded HCC specimens, and the clinical significance of its expression was analyzed. A human HCC cell line HepG2 with high abundance of CENP-A was used to study the effects of manipulating CENP-A on HCC growth. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction arrays and Western blot analysis were employed to identify the cell-cycle control- and apoptosis-related genes regulated by CENP-A. The results showed that CENP-A was aberrantly overexpressed in HCCs relative to adjacent nontumor tissues. This overexpression was significantly associated with positive serum HBsAg status, increased histological grade, high Ki-67 index and P53 immunopositivity. Knockdown of CENP-A in HepG2 cells reduced cell proliferation, blocked cell cycle at the G1 phase, and increased apoptosis. The antiproliferative effects of CENP-A silencing were also observed in vivo. Conversely, CENP-A overexpression promoted HCC cell growth and reduced apoptosis. Furthermore, many genes implicated in cell-cycle regulation and apoptosis, including CHK2, P21waf1, P27 Kip1, SKP2, cyclin G1, MDM2, Bcl-2, and Bax, were deregulated by manipulating CENP-A.
Conclusions/significance: Overexpression of CENP-A is frequently observed in HCC. Targeting CENP-A can inhibit HCC growth, likely through the regulation of a large number genes involved in cell-cycle progression and apoptosis, and thereby represents a potential therapeutic strategy for this malignancy.