Genetic alterations associated with human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) have been reported previously, but are not sufficient to specify differences of HCCs from precancerous diseases of the liver, such as hepatitis, hepatic fibrosis, and cirrhosis. In the present study, we performed differential gene display analysis (DGDA) to clarify the specific genetic alterations associated with gene expression changes in the course of development of HCC from chronic viral hepatitis. Four pairs of surgically resected HCCs and hepatitis tissues were investigated. We found 1,028 expression sequence tags (ESTs) that were decreased or increased in HCC tissues compared with hepatitis tissues in the same patient. Nucleotide sequencing showed that they included 55 EST clones in the GenBank database, which were considered candidates for specific messenger RNA (mRNA) expression alterations in HCCs. After excluding 9 ESTs that code mitochondrial DNA, we performed quantitative real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for the 46 remaining EST clones. We found 8 mRNAs underexpressed in primary HCC tissues in 20 patients in higher percentages than found in previous studies, including 18 cases (90%) for aldolase B (ALDOB), 15 cases (75%) for carbamyl phosphate synthetase 1 (CPS1), albumin (ALB), plasminogen (PLG), and EST 51549, 13 cases (65%) for cytochrome P450 subfamily 2E1 (CYP2E1), 12 cases (60%) for human retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), and 11 cases (55%) for human organic anion transporter C (OATP-C) gene. In conclusion, underexpression of key gene products may be important in the development and/or progression of HCC.