Abnormal activation of the synuclein-gamma gene in hepatocellular carcinomas by epigenetic alteration

Wei Zhao, Haiyan Liu, Wei Liu, Yinwei Wu, Wei Chen, Bin Jiang, Yue Zhou, Rong Xue, Chan Luo, Lan Wang, Jian-Dong Jiang, Jingwen Liu
International Journal of Oncology 2006, 28 (5): 1081-8
Liver cancer is the fifth most common neoplastic disease and the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death. Identification of the key molecular targets involved in hepatocarcinogenesis has significant therapeutic implications. In this study, by conducting immunohistochemistry, we show that the neuronal protein, synuclein-gamma (SNCG), is abnormally expressed in a high percentage of liver cancer (46/70, 65.7%). The expression of SNCG in liver cancer exhibits a clear stage-specific pattern of low expression in stage I (1/19, 5.3%) and high expression in stages III to IV (44/50, 88%). Importantly, all patients with metastatic diseases expressed SNCG in their primary tumors (15/15, 100%). Consistent with the IHC results, RT-PCR assays demonstrate that SNCG mRNA is highly expressed in the tumor tissue of advanced hepatocellular carcinomas. Analyses of the methylation status of the CpG island of the SNCG gene by methylation-specific PCR confirmed that all tumor samples contained the demethylated gene. To determine whether demethylation of SNCG is an early event of genetic abnormality in the process of hepatocarcinogenesis, we examined the methylation status of SNCG in 70 non-malignant cirrhotic liver samples and showed that 64.3% cirrhotic liver samples contained the partially or completely demethylated gene. We further show that SNCG expression in liver cancer is not restricted to HBV- and HCV-infected tumors, implying the involvement of other hepatocarcinogenic risk factors in SNCG gene reactivation. Utilizing human hepatoma-derived cell line HepG2 as an in vitro model, we demonstrate that hepatic carcinogens aflatoxin B1 and N-nitrosodimethylamine (DMN) are strong inducers of SNCG expression. Collectively, these new findings suggest that SNCG protein expression in primary tumors is a strong indicator of distant metastasis and demethylation of SNCG CpG island is an early sign of genetic abnormality in liver cirrhosis preceding hepatocarcinogenesis. Our studies also suggest that inducing demethylation of SNCG by hepatocarcinogens may represent one underlying mechanism for the aberrant expression of SNCG in HCC.

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