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Identification of the key genes and mechanisms associated with transcatheter arterial chemoembolisation refractoriness in hepatocellular carcinoma.

BACKGROUND: Transcatheter arterial embolisation (TACE) is the primary treatment for intermediate-stage hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients while some HCC cases have shown resistance to TACE.

AIM: To investigate the key genes and potential mechanisms correlated with TACE refractoriness in HCC.

METHODS: The microarray datasets of TACE-treated HCC tissues, HCC and non-HCC tissues were collected by searching multiple public databases. The respective differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were attained via limma R package. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis was employed for identifying the significant modules related to TACE non-response. TACE refractoriness-related genes were obtained by intersecting up-regulated TACE-associated and HCC-associated DEGs together with the genes in significant modules related to TACE non-response. The key genes expression in the above two pairs of samples was compared respectively via Wilcoxon tests and standard mean differences model. The prognostic value of the key genes was evaluated by Kaplan-Meier curve. Multivariate analysis was utilised to investigate the independent prognostic factor in key genes. Single-cell RNA (scRNA) sequencing analysis was conducted to explore the cell types in HCC. TACE refractoriness-related genes activity was calculated via AUCell packages. The CellChat R package was used for the investigation of the cell-cell communication between the identified cell types.

RESULTS: HCC tissues of TACE non-responders ( n = 66) and TACE responders ( n = 81), HCC ( n = 3941) and non-HCC ( n = 3443) tissues were obtained. The five key genes, DLG associated protein 5 (DLGAP5), Kinesin family member 20A (KIF20A), Assembly factor for spindle microtubules (ASPM), Kinesin family member 11 (KIF11) and TPX2 microtubule nucleation factor (TPX2) in TACE refractoriness-related genes, were identified. The five key genes were all up-regulated in the TACE non-responders group and the HCC group. High expression of the five key genes predicted poor prognosis in HCC. Among the key genes, TPX2 was an independent prognostic factor. Four cell types, hepatocytes, embryonic stem cells, T cells and B cells, were identified in the HCC tissues. The TACE refractoriness-related genes expressed primarily in hepatocytes and embryonic stem cells. Hepatocytes, as the providers of ligands, had the strongest interaction with embryonic stem cells that provided receptors.

CONCLUSION: Five key genes (DLGAP5, KIF20A, ASPM, KIF11 and TPX2) were identified as promoting refractory TACE. Hepatocytes and embryonic stem cells were likely to boost TACE refractoriness.

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