Evidence is rapidly accumulating that long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are involved in human tumorigenesis and are dysregulated in multiple cancers, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). lncRNAs can regulate essential pathways that contribute to tumor initiation and progression with tissue specificity, which suggests that lncRNAs may be valuable biomarkers and therapeutic targets. HOX transcript antisense intergenic RNA (HOTAIR) has previously been demonstrated to be an oncogene and a negative prognostic factor in a variety of cancers; however, the factors that contribute to the upregulation of HOTAIR and the interaction between HOTAIR and microRNAs (miRNAs or miRs) are largely unknown. In the present study, the expression levels of HOTAIR, forkhead box C1 (FOXC1) and miRNA-1 were examined in 50 matched pairs of HCC and HCC cells. The effects of HOTAIR on HCC cell proliferation were tested using trypan blue exclusion assay. The effect of HOTAIR on HCC growth in vivo was determined in a (nu/nu) mouse model. A computational screening of HOTAIR promoter was conducted to search for transcription factor-binding sites. FOXC1 binding to the promoter region of HOTAIR was confirmed using a chromatin immunoprecipitation assay. A search for miRNAs that had complementary base paring with HOTAIR was performed utilizing an online software program. The interaction between miR-1 and HOTAIR was examined using a luciferase reporter assay. Gain and loss of function approaches were used to determine the changes of HOTAIR or miR-1 expression. The relative levels of FOXC1 and HOTAIR expression in HCC tissues and HepG2 cells were significantly higher than those in normal liver LO2 cells and adjacent carcinoma tissues; the relative expression of miR-1 exhibited the opposite pattern. Overexpression of HOTAIR promoted HCC cell proliferation and progression of tumor xenografts. The present authors have demonstrated that FOXC1 binds to the upstream region of HOTAIR in HCC cells and that FOXC1 activates lncRNA HOTAIR expression in HCC HepG2 cells, which suggests that HOTAIR harbors a miRNA-1 binding site. The present data revealed that this binding site is vital for the regulation of miRNA-1 by HOTAIR. Furthermore, HOTAIR negatively regulated the expression of miRNA-1 in HepG2 cells. Additionally, the present study demonstrated that the oncogenic activity of HOTAIR is in part based on the negative regulation of miR-1. Taken together, these results suggest that HOTAIR is a FOXC1-activated driver of malignancy, which acts in part through the repression of miR-1.
Keywords: FOXC1; HOTAIR; hepatocellular carcinoma; long non-coding RNA; miR-1.