Background & aims: Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is an important risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Despite effective antiviral therapies, the risk for HCC is decreased but not eliminated after a sustained virologic response (SVR) to direct-acting antiviral (DAA) agents, and the risk is higher in patients with advanced fibrosis. We investigated HCV-induced epigenetic alterations that might affect risk for HCC after DAA treatment in patients and mice with humanized livers.
Methods: We performed genome-wide ChIPmentation-based ChIP-Seq and RNA-seq analyses of liver tissues from 6 patients without HCV infection (controls), 18 patients with chronic HCV infection, 8 patients with chronic HCV infection cured by DAA treatment, 13 patients with chronic HCV infection cured by interferon therapy, 4 patients with chronic hepatitis B virus infection, and 7 patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in Europe and Japan. HCV-induced epigenetic modifications were mapped by comparative analyses with modifications associated with other liver disease etiologies. uPA/SCID mice were engrafted with human hepatocytes to create mice with humanized livers and given injections of HCV-infected serum samples from patients; mice were given DAAs to eradicate the virus. Pathways associated with HCC risk were identified by integrative pathway analyses and validated in analyses of paired HCC tissues from 8 patients with an SVR to DAA treatment of HCV infection.
Results: We found chronic HCV infection to induce specific genome-wide changes in H3K27ac, which correlated with changes in expression of mRNAs and proteins. These changes persisted after an SVR to DAAs or interferon-based therapies. Integrative pathway analyses of liver tissues from patients and mice with humanized livers demonstrated that HCV-induced epigenetic alterations were associated with liver cancer risk. Computational analyses associated increased expression of SPHK1 with HCC risk. We validated these findings in an independent cohort of patients with HCV-related cirrhosis (n = 216), a subset of which (n = 21) achieved viral clearance.
Conclusions: In an analysis of liver tissues from patients with and without an SVR to DAA therapy, we identified epigenetic and gene expression alterations associated with risk for HCC. These alterations might be targeted to prevent liver cancer in patients treated for HCV infection.
Keywords: Biomarker; Biopsy; Chemoprevention; Sox9.
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