DNA methylation regulates a set of long non-coding RNAs compromising hepatic identity during hepatocarcinogenesis
Simple Summary Hepatocarcinogenesis is a long process which implies the loss of hepatic functions. Our effort is to understand the mechanisms implicated in this pathological process in order to contribute to the development of new diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets. In this study we have identified a set of lncRNAs significantly downregulated in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in correlation with the grade of tumor dedifferentiation and patients' worse prognosis. Mechanistically, our results show that they are related with hepatic differentiation and at least a subset of those lncRNAs are essential to ensure the expression of other hepato-specific genes required for liver function. Moreover, we demonstrate that the expression of these lncRNAs in HCC is silenced by DNA methylation. All in all, we uncover connected epigenetic alterations involved in the progression of liver cancer and identify potential new biomarkers. Background: Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are emerging as key players in cancer, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Here we identify the mechanism implicated in the HCC inhibition of a set of lncRNAs, and their contribution to the process of hepatocarcinogenesis. Methods and Results: The top-ranked 35 lncRNAs downregulated in HCC (Top35 LNDH) were validated in several human HCC cohorts. We demonstrate that their inhibition is associated with promoter hypermethylation in HCC compared to control tissue, and in HCC human cell lines compared to primary hepatocytes. Moreover, demethylating treatment of HCC human cell lines induced the expression of these lncRNAs. The Top35 LNDH were preferentially expressed in the adult healthy liver compared to other tissues and fetal liver and were induced in well-differentiated HepaRG cells. Remarkably, their knockdown compromised the expression of other hepato-specific genes. Finally, the expression of the Top35 LNDH positively correlates with the grade of tumor differentiation and, more importantly, with a better patient prognosis. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that the selected Top35 LNDH are not only part of the genes that compose the hepatic differentiated signature but participate in its establishment. Moreover, their downregulation through DNA methylation occurs during the process of hepatocarcinogenesis compromising hepatocellular differentiation and HCC patients' prognosis.