Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) typically results from a stepwise process characterized by the development of premalignant lesions, such as low- or high-grade dysplastic nodules (LGDNs and HGDNs, respectively), in a cirrhotic setting. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs involved in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression that can act as oncogenes or tumor suppressors. Whether and which miRNAs are involved in the early stages of HCC development remains elusive. Here, small-RNA sequencing was applied to profile miRNA expression in 55 samples (cirrhotic nodules; CNs), LGDNs, HGDNs, early HCCs, and small progressed HCCs, obtained from 17 patients bearing HCCs of different etiologies. An miRNA expression signature of 62 miRNAs distinguishing small progressed HCCs from matched CNs was identified. Interestingly, 52 of these miRNAs discriminated CNs from LGDNs/HGDNs, regardless of etiology, and remained modified along the tumorigenic process. Functional analysis of the predicted mRNA targets of deregulated miRNAs identified common modifications between the early and late stages of HCC development likely involved in the stepwise process of HCC development. Our results demonstrate that miRNA deregulation happens very early in HCC in humans, implying their crucial role in the tumorigenic process. The identification of miRNAs discriminating CNs from neoplastic nodules may have relevant translational implications in early diagnosis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine