The estrogen pathway has long been implicated as a tumor protector in female hepatitis B virus (HBV)-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Our previous study identified that estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) protein is downregulated in 60% of female HCC cases, via a miR-18a elevation mediated suppression of ERα translation. This study aims to delineate the mechanism underlying the upregulation of miR-18a in female HCC. The analysis of 77 female HCC specimens revealed that miR-18a levels were associated with pre-miR-18a rather than pri-miR-18a levels, suggesting an enhanced processing of pri- to pre-miR-18a. Among a panel of factors involved in microRNA processing, p53 was identified as a novel regulator for miR-18a maturation process. Knockdown of p53 by si-RNA decreased the level of miR-18a, whereas overexpression of either wild-type or mutant p53 increased its level. The association between the elevation of miR-18a and the accumulation of p53, mainly caused by somatic mutations, was confirmed in the clinical specimens of HBV-related female HCC. By analyzing the association with clinicopathological features, activation of this p53/miR-18a pathway mainly occurs in younger or noncirrhosis female HCC patients and associated with a trend of worse overall survival. Therefore, this study demonstrated a novel function of elevated/mutant p53 in regulating the amount of ERα protein through its promoting the biogenesis of miR-18a, which could lead to decrease the tumor-protective function of the estrogen pathway in female hepatocarcinogenesis.
Keywords: estrogen; gender; hepatitis B virus; hepatocellular carcinoma; microRNA; p53.
© 2014 UICC.