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Abstract

Random integration of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA into the host genome is frequent in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and this leads to truncation of the HBV DNA, particularly at the C-terminal end of the HBV X protein (HBx). In this study, we investigated the frequency of this natural C-terminal truncation of HBx in human HCCs and its functional significance. In 50 HBV-positive patients with HCC, full-length HBx was detected in all nontumorous livers. However, full-length HBx was found in only 27 (54%) of the HCC tumors, whereas natural carboxylic acid (COOH)-truncated HBx was found in the remaining 23 (46%) tumors. Upon clinicopathological analysis, the presence of natural COOH-truncated HBx significantly correlated with the presence of venous invasion, a hallmark of metastasis (P = 0.005). Inducible stable expression of the COOH-truncated HBx protein (with 24 amino acids truncated at the C-terminal end) enhanced the cell-invasive ability of HepG2 cells, as compared to full-length HBx, using the Matrigel cell-invasion assay. It also resulted in increased C-Jun transcriptional activity and enhanced transcription of matrix metalloproteinase 10 (MMP10), whereas activation of the MMP10 promoter by COOH-truncated HBx was abolished when the activator protein 1–binding sites on the MMP10 promoter were mutated. Furthermore, silencing of MMP10 by short interfering RNA in HBxΔC1-expressing HepG2 cells resulted in significant reduction of cell invasiveness. Conclusions: Our data suggest that COOH truncation of HBx, particularly with 24 amino acids truncated at the C-terminal end, plays a role in enhancing cell invasiveness and metastasis in HCC by activating MMP10 through C-Jun. (HEPATOLOGY 2013)