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Abstract

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) X protein has been implicated as a potential trigger of the epigenetic modifications of some genes during hepatocarcinogenesis, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. MicroRNAs (miRNAs), which are noncoding RNAs that regulate gene expression, are involved in diverse biological functions and in carcinogenesis. In this study, we investigated whether some miRNAs are aberrantly expressed and involved in the regulation of the abnormal DNA methylation status in HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Our results showed that the expression of microRNA-152 (miR-152) was frequently down-regulated in HBV-related HCC tissues in comparison with adjacent noncancerous hepatic tissues and was inversely correlated to DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) messenger RNA (mRNA) expression in HBV-related HCCs. The forced expression of miR-152 in liver cell lines resulted in a marked reduction of the expression of DNMT1 at both the mRNA and protein levels by directly targeting the 3′ untranslated regions of DNMT1. This in turn led to a decrease in global DNA methylation, whereas inhibition of miR-152 caused global DNA hypermethylation and increased the methylation levels of two tumor suppressor genes, glutathione S-transferase pi 1 (GSTP1) and E-cadherin 1 (CDH1). Conclusion: Our findings suggest that miR-152 is frequently down-regulated and regulates DNMT1 in HBV-related HCC. These findings support a tumor-suppressive role of miR-152 in the epigenetic aberration of HBV-related HCC and the potential development of miRNA-based targeted approaches for the treatment of HBV-related HCC. HEPATOLOGY 2010