Target and drug predictions for SARS-CoV-2 infection in hepatocellular carcinoma patients

PLoS One. 2022 May 31;17(5):e0269249. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0269249. eCollection 2022.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the cause of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which poses a major threat to humans worldwide. With the continuous progress of the pandemic, a growing number of people are infected with SARS-CoV-2, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. However, the relationship between COVID-19 and HCC has not been fully elucidated. In order to provide better treatment for HCC patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, it's urgently needed to identify common targets and find effective drugs for both. In our study, transcriptomic analysis was performed on both selected lung epithelial cell datasets of COVID-19 patients and the datasets of HCC patients to identify the synergistic effect of COVID-19 in HCC patients. What's more, common differentially expressed genes were identified, and a protein-protein interactions network was designed. Then, hub genes and basic modules were detected based on the protein-protein interactions network. Next, functional analysis was performed using gene ontology terminology and the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes pathway. Finally, protein-protein interactions revealed COVID-19 interaction with key proteins associated with HCC and further identified transcription factor (TF) genes and microRNAs (miRNA) with differentially expressed gene interactions and transcription factor activity. This study reveals that COVID-19 and HCC are closely linked at the molecular level and proposes drugs that may play an important role in HCC patients with COVID-19. More importantly, according to the results of our research, two critical drugs, Ilomastat and Palmatine, may be effective for HCC patients with COVID-19, which provides clinicians with a novel therapeutic idea when facing possible complications in HCC patients with COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / complications
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / complications
  • Liver Neoplasms* / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Transcription Factors


  • Transcription Factors

Grants and funding

This study was co-funded by Jiangsu Provincial Medical Youth Talent (QNRC2016816) and Project of Jiangsu Provincial Health and Family Planning Commission (H2018090) to Rong Chen. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.