An increasing number of noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) have been implicated in various human diseases including cancer; however, the ncRNA transcriptome of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is largely unexplored. We used CAGE to map transcription start sites across various types of human and mouse HCCs with emphasis on ncRNAs distant from protein-coding genes. Here, we report that retroviral LTR promoters, expressed in healthy tissues such as testis and placenta but not liver, are widely activated in liver tumors. Despite HCC heterogeneity, a subset of LTR-derived ncRNAs were more than 10-fold up-regulated in the vast majority of samples. HCCs with a high LTR activity mostly had a viral etiology, were less differentiated, and showed higher risk of recurrence. ChIP-seq data show that MYC and MAX are associated with ncRNA deregulation. Globally, CAGE enabled us to build a mammalian promoter map for HCC, which uncovers a new layer of complexity in HCC genomics.
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