HCV core inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma cell replicative senescence through downregulating microRNA-138 expression.

Shiu TY, Shih YL, Feng AC et al.

Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal Medicine, Tri-Service General Hospital, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan.

Journal of molecular medicine (Berlin, Germany). Mar 2017.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause of chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCV core protein is considered as a positive regulator of telomerase activity. In this study, we focused on the deregulated microRNA-138 (miR-138) in HCV-associated HCC. Differential expression of miR-138 was determined by TaqMan quantitative real-time PCR. The target gene of miR-138 was verified by luciferase reporter assay, quantitative real-time PCR, and Western blotting. Moreover, three assays based on telomerase activity, cell proliferation, and senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity were performed. The correlation analysis revealed a significantly negative correlation between miR-138 and telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) mRNA expression in HCC. Further, we showed that mature HCV core protein of 173 amino acids, but not full-length form of 191 amino acids, suppressed miR-138 expression. TERT was verified as a direct target of miR-138 in HCC cells. Furthermore, TERT-targeting miR-138 supplementation can prevent HCV core protein from repressing HCC cell replicative senescence. Collectively, HCV core protein can enhance TERT protein expression through downregulating TERT-targeting miR-138 expression, which in turn inhibits HCC cell replicative senescence. This study may further help our understanding on the pathogenic mechanisms of HCV core protein in HCV-associated HCC development. KEY MESSAGE: miR-138 is downregulated in HCV-associated HCC. Mature HCV core protein plays a pathogenic role in suppressing miR-138 expression. Telomerase reverse transcriptase represents a direct target of miR-138 in HCC cells. miR-138 promotes HCC cell senescence, suggesting potential for HCC treatment.