A phylogenetic analysis identifies heterogeneity among hepatocellular carcinomas



Primary hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a significant cause of cancer morbidity and mortality on the global scale. Although epidemiologic studies have identified major risk factors for HCC, the sequence of oncogenic events at the molecular level remains poorly understood. While genetic allele loss appears to be a common event, the significance of the loss is not clear. In order to determine whether allele loss appears to be a random event among HCCs or whether patterns of loss cluster in groups of tumors, a phylogenetic approach was used to examine 32 tumors for genome-wide loss of heterozygosity employing 391 markers. Clusters identified by the phylogenetic analysis were then contrasted to compare candidate locus variation among individuals and to determine whether certain clusters exhibited higher loss rates than other clusters. The analysis found that 3 major and 1 minor cluster of loss could be identified and, further, these clusters were distinguished by variable rates of loss (cluster 1,29%; cluster 3, 16%). The analyses also indicated that the allele loss rates in HCC were not insignificant and that the patterns of allele loss were complex. In addition, the results indicated that an individual's constitutional genotype at the EPHX1 locus may be a critical factor in determining the path of tumor evolution. In conclusion, it appears that in HCC, allele loss is not random, but clusters into definable groups that are characterized by distinctive rates of loss. (HEPATOLOGY2002;36:1341–1348).