miR-148a plays a pivotal role in the liver by promoting the hepatospecific phenotype and suppressing the invasiveness of transformed cells


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • This work was supported by a Grant-in-aid for the Third-Term Comprehensive 10-Year Strategy for Cancer Control, the CREST program from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, a Grant-in-Aid for hepatitis B virus research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, the A-STEP program of the Japanese Science and Technology Agency, the Program for Promotion of Fundamental Studies in Health Sciences of the National Institute of Biomedical Innovation (NiBio), the Project for Development of Innovative Research on Cancer Therapeutics (P-Direct), and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) through its “Funding Program for World-Leading Innovative R&D on Science and Technology (FIRST Program).” This work was also carried out by the joint research program of the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Regulation, Gunma University (Maebashi, Japan).

Address reprint requests to: Takahiro Ochiya, Ph.D., Division of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, National Cancer Center Research Institute, 5-1-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan. E-mail:; fax: +81-3-5565-0727.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are evolutionary conserved small RNAs that post-transcriptionally regulate the expression of target genes. To date, the role of miRNAs in liver development is not fully understood. By using an experimental model that allows the induced and controlled differentiation of mouse fetal hepatoblasts (MFHs) into mature hepatocytes, we identified miR-148a as a hepatospecific miRNA highly expressed in adult liver. The main finding of this study revealed that miR-148a was critical for hepatic differentiation through the direct targeting of DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) 1, a major enzyme responsible for epigenetic silencing, thereby allowing the promotion of the “adult liver” phenotype. It was also confirmed that the reduction of DNMT1 by RNA interference significantly promoted the expression of the major hepatic biomarkers. In addition to the essential role of miR-148a in hepatocyte maturation, we identified its beneficial effect through the repression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell malignancy. miR-148a expression was frequently down-regulated in biopsies of HCC patients as well as in mouse and human HCC cell lines. Overexpressing miR-148a led to an enhancement of albumin production and a drastic inhibition of the invasive properties of HCC cells, whereas miR-148a silencing had the opposite consequences. Finally, we showed that miR-148a exerted its tumor-suppressive effect by regulating the c-Met oncogene, regardless of the DNMT1 expression level. Conclusion: miR-148a is essential for the physiology of the liver because it promotes the hepatospecific phenotype and acts as a tumor suppressor. Most important, this report is the first to demonstrate a functional role for a specific miRNA in liver development through regulation of the DNMT1 enzyme. (Hepatology 2013;53:1153–1165)