The role of hepatitis B virus in the development of primary hepatocellular carcinoma: Part I

Authors

  • WILLIAM S. ROBINSON

    Corresponding author
    1. Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA
      Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA.
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Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA.

Abstract

Chronic infections with hepatitis B virus (HBV) of humans and animal hepadnavirus infections in their natural hosts are strongly associated with primary hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Although viral integrations are found in cells of many HCC, no general viral-specific hepatocarcinogenic mechanism for hepadnaviruses has been identified. In approximately one half of HCC in woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) infected woodchucks, viral integrations near the c-myc or N-myc genes have been reported which result in enhanced expression of the respective gene. Such host gene-specific insertional mutagenesis has not been found in HCC of other hepadnavirus infected hosts. Thus in humans, ground squirrels and ducks hepadnaviral integrations appear to be at different host chromosomal DNA sites in each HCC and few integrations have been found within or near any cellular gene. Other possible hepadnavirus-specific carcinogenic mechanisms that are being investigated include transactivation of cellular gene expression by an hepadnavirus gene product (e.g. the X-gene), and mutation of host genes by unknown hepadnavirus-specific mechanisms. It should be noted, however, that chronic hepadnavirus infection is associated with chronic necroinflammatory liver disease with hepatocellular necrosis and regeneration (sometimes leading to cirrhosis in humans), a pathological process that is common to numerous other risk factors for HCC. This suggests the possibility that this pathological process is hepatocarcinogenic irrespective of the inciting agent and the role of hepadnavirus infection is no different from that of other risk factors in causing chronic necroinflammatory liver disease.

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