Yip WK, Cheng AS, Zhu R, Lung RW, Tsang DP, Lau SS, Chen Y, Sung JG, Lai PB, Ng EK, Yu J, Wong N, To KF, Wong VW, Sung JJ, Chan HL
BACKGROUND: The biological pathways and functional properties by which misexpressed microRNAs (miRNAs) contribute to liver carcinogenesis have been intensively investigated. However, little is known about the upstream mechanisms that deregulate miRNA expressions in this process. In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), hepatitis B virus (HBV) X protein (HBx), a transcriptional trans-activator, is frequently expressed in truncated form without carboxyl-terminus but its role in miRNA expression and HCC development is unclear. METHODS: Human non-tumorigenic hepatocytes were infected with lentivirus-expressing full-length and carboxyl-terminal truncated HBx (Ct-HBx) for cell growth assay and miRNA profiling. Chromatin immunoprecipitation microarray was performed to identify the miRNA promoters directly associated with HBx. Direct transcriptional control was verified by luciferase reporter assay. The differential miRNA expressions were further validated in a cohort of HBV-associated HCC tissues using real-time PCR. RESULTS: Hepatocytes expressing Ct-HBx grew significantly faster than the full-length HBx counterparts. Ct-HBx decreased while full-length HBx increased the expression of a set of miRNAs with growth-suppressive functions. Interestingly, Ct-HBx bound to and inhibited the transcriptional activity of some of these miRNA promoters. Notably, some of the examined repressed-miRNAs (miR-26a, -29c, -146a and -190) were also significantly down-regulated in a subset of HCC tissues with carboxyl-terminal HBx truncation compared to their matching non-tumor tissues, highlighting the clinical relevance of our data. CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that Ct-HBx directly regulates miRNA transcription and in turn promotes hepatocellular proliferation, thus revealing a viral contribution of miRNA deregulation during hepatocarcinogenesis.