Background: Gene deletion, point mutations, and abnormalities in expression of the tumor suppressor gene p53 in hepatocellular carcinoma have been reported to occur with varying frequency in different geographic regions.
Methods: To assess the expression and point mutation of the p53 gene, 31 patients with hepatocellular carcinomas were examined using Northern blotting, immunohistochemical methods, and DNA sequencing. All patients were Chinese, and 90.3% were positive for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg).
Results: p53 transcript or protein was found in 14 (48.4%) of the 31 patients. Detectable p53 mRNA transcripts were found in 10 patients, and p53 protein was detected in 8 patients. In most cases of patients who had detectable p53 mRNA transcripts, the transcripts in the tumors were exhibited at a higher level than they were in the corresponding nontumorous livers. No p53 protein was detected in the nontumorous livers in all 31 patients. Six (23.1%) of the 26 tumors sequenced showed point mutation scattered in exons 5-9. Of these, only two were at codon-249, and the nature of these two mutations was G-to-T transversions. All but one of the six patients with point mutations had overexpression of the gene.
Conclusions: Our results show that scattered point mutations are not uncommon in hepatocellular carcinomas in patients from Hong Kong. The distribution pattern of the mutations seems to have no particular correlation with HBsAg status despite a high prevalence rate of HBsAg positivity in our patients. Consistent with a low aflatoxin exposure, aflatoxin-related specific mutation at codon-249 is much less related to the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma in Hong Kong Chinese people than in other regions with a high-aflatoxin exposure.