Interferon-stimulated gene 20 kDa protein (ISG20) with 3' to 5' exonuclease activity mainly targeting single-stranded RNA plays an important role in immune responses against various infectious pathogens, including hepatitis viruses. ISG20 levels were measured by ELISA assays in sera of 339 hepatitis B-virus (HBV) infected patients and 71 healthy individuals and were correlated with clinical and laboratory parameters. ISG20 mRNA was quantified by qRT-PCR in 30 pairs of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tumour and adjacent non-tumour liver tissues. ISG20 levels were significantly elevated in HBV patients compared to healthy controls (P<0.0001). In the patient group, varying ISG20 levels were associated with different forms of HBV-related liver diseases. ISG20 levels were higher in patients with HCC compared to those without HCC (P<0.0001), and increased according to the stages of HCC (P<0.0001). ISG20 mRNA expression was up-regulated in tumour tissues compared to the expression in adjacent non-tumour tissues (P=0.017). Importantly, ISG20 levels were strongly correlated with the levels of AST, ALT, total and direct bilirubin among HCC patients (Pearson's r = 0.43, 0.35, 0.34, 0.3; P<0.0001, respectively). Although differences between liver cirrhosis (LC) and non-LC patients were not observed, ISG20 levels were elevated according to the progression of cirrhosis in patients with LC plus HCC (P=0.005). In conclusions, ISG20 levels are induced by HBV infection and significantly associated with progression and clinical outcome of HBV-related liver diseases, especially in patients with HCC. ISG20 might be a potential indicator for liver injury and the clinical outcome in HBV-related HCC.
Keywords: ISG20 expression; ISG20 levels; hepatocellular carcinoma; interferon-stimulated gene; viral hepatitis.