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J Hepatol. 2011 Apr;54(4):705-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2010.07.027. Epub 2010 Sep 25.

Aberrant DNA methylation distinguishes hepatocellular carcinoma associated with HBV and HCV infection and alcohol intake.

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Epigenetics Group, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.



Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most frequent human cancers and a major cause of cancer-related death worldwide. The major risk factors for developing HCC are infection by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), chronic alcoholism, and aflatoxins; however, critical gene targets remain largely unknown. Herein, we sought to establish DNA methylation patterns in HCC and corresponding cirrhotic tissues and to identify DNA methylation changes associated with major risk factors.


We have established assays for quantitative analysis of DNA methylation levels in a panel of seven cancer-associated genes and repetitive elements, and combined these assays with a series of HCC tumors, associated with major risk factors, collected from two different geographical areas.


We found a high frequency of aberrant hypermethylation of specific genes (RASSF1A, GSTP1, CHRNA3, and DOK1) in HCC tumors as compared to control cirrhotic or normal liver tissues, suggesting that aberrant hypermethylation exhibits non-random and tumor-specific patterns in HCC. Importantly, our analysis revealed an association between alcohol intake and the hypomethylation of MGMT and between hypermethylation of GSTP1 and HBV infection, indicating that hypermethylation of the genes analyzed in HCC tumors exhibits remarkably distinct patterns depending on associated risk factors.


This study identifies aberrant DNA methylation of specific cellular genes in HCC and the major risk factors associated with these changes, providing information that could be exploited for biomarker discovery in clinics and molecular epidemiology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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