Background: ISGylation is the conjugation of ISG15 with target proteins. ISGylation occurs through an enzymatic cascade, which is similar to that of ubiquitination. Through ISGylation, ISG15 can bind to proteins involved in cell proliferation and differentiation, thus promoting genesis and progression of malignancies. The present study aims to investigate expression of genes involved in ISGylation and ubiquitination in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and to correlate gene expression with clinical laboratory parameters of these patients. Methods: mRNA expression of genes encoding enzymes involved in the ISGylation process (EFP, HERC5, UBA1, UBC and USP18) was evaluated by quantitative real-time PCR in 38 pairs of tumour and adjacent non-tumour tissues from patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and correlated with distinct clinical laboratory parameters. Results: Relative mRNA expression of EFP, HERC5, UBA1 and USP18 was significantly higher in tumour tissues compared to adjacent non-tumour tissues (P=0.006; 0.012; 0.02 and 0.039, respectively). The correlation pattern of mRNA expression between genes in the tumours differed from the pattern in adjacent non-tumour tissues. Relative expression of EFP, HERC5 and UBA1 in adjacent non-tumour tissues was positively associated with direct bilirubin levels (Spearman's rho=0.31, 0.33 and 0.45; P=0.06, 0.05 and 0.01, respectively) and relative expression of USP18 in adjacent non-tumour tissues correlated negatively with ALT levels (Spearman's rho= -0.33, P=0.03). Conclusions: EFP, HERC5, UBA1, and USP18 genes are upregulated in tumour tissues of patients with HCC and, thus, may be associated with the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma.
Keywords: E3 ligase; ISGylation; Interferon-stimulated gene 15 (ISG15); hepatocellular carcinoma; ubiquitin-specific protease 18 (USP18).
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