Altered expression of microRNAs (miRNAs) has been reported in diverse human cancers; however, the down-regulation or up-regulation of any particular miRNAs in cancer is not sufficient to address the role of these changes in carcinogenesis. In this study, using the rat model of liver carcinogenesis induced by a methyl-deficient diet, which is relevant to the hepatocarcinogenesis in humans associated with viral hepatitis C and B infections, alcohol exposure and metabolic liver diseases, we showed that the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is characterized by prominent early changes in expression of miRNA genes, specifically by inhibition of expression of microRNAs miR-34a, miR-127, miR-200b, and miR-16a involved in the regulation of apoptosis, cell proliferation, cell-to-cell connection, and epithelial-mesenchymal transition. The mechanistic link between these alterations in miRNAs expression and the development of HCC was confirmed by the corresponding changes in the levels of E2F3, NOTCH1, BCL6, ZFHX1B, and BCL2 proteins targeted by these miRNAs. The significance of miRNAs expression dysregulation in respect to hepatocarcinogenesis was confirmed by the persistence of these miRNAs alterations in the livers of methyl-deficient rats re-fed a methyl-adequate diet. Altogether, the early occurrence of alterations in miRNAs expression and their persistence during the entire process of hepatocarcinogenesis indicate that the dysregulation of microRNAs expression may be an important contributing factor in the development of HCC. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.