Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a major risk factor for developing liver cancer, and the HBV X protein (pX) has been implicated as a cofactor in hepatocyte transformation. We have shown that HBV replication as well as in vitro transformation by pX are associated with induction of the mitotic polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1) and down-regulation of the chromatin remodeling components Suz12 and Znf198. Herein, we demonstrate the same inverse relationship between Plk1 and Suz12/Znf198 in liver tumors from X/c-myc bitransgenic mice and woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV)-infected woodchucks. Employing these animal models and the HBV replicating HepAD38 cells we examined the effect of Suz12/Znf198 down-regulation on gene expression. Genes analyzed include hepatic cancer stem cell markers BAMBI, DKK1,2, DLK1, EpCAM, MYC, and proliferation genes CCNA1, CCND2, IGFII, MCM4-6, PLK1, RPA2, and TYMS. Suz12 occupancy at the promoters of BAMBI, CCND2, DKK2, DLK1, EpCAM, and IGFII was demonstrated by chromatin immunoprecipitation in untransformed hepatocytes, but was markedly reduced in pX-transformed and Suz12 knockdown cells. Accordingly, we refer to these genes as "Suz12 repressed" genes in untransformed hepatocytes. The Suz12 repressed genes and proliferation genes were induced in HBV-replicating HepAD38 cells and, interestingly, they exhibited distinct expression profiles during hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) progression in X/c-myc bitransgenics. Specifically, CCND2, EpCAM, and IGFII expression was elevated at the proliferative and preneoplastic stages in X/c-myc bitransgenic livers, whereas BAMBI and PLK1 were overexpressed in hepatic tumors from X/c-myc bitransgenics and WHV-infected woodchucks. Importantly, most of these genes were selectively up-regulated in HBV-induced HCCs.
Conclusion: The distinct expression profile of the identified Suz12 repressed genes in combination with the proliferation genes hold promise as biomarkers for progression of chronic HBV infection to HCC.
Copyright © 2012 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.