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1.  Hepatitis B Virus X Protein Inhibits Tumor Suppressor miR-205 through Inducing Hypermethylation of miR-205 Promoter to Enhance Carcinogenesis12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2013;15(11):1282-1291.
The infection of hepatitis B virus (HBV) is closely associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), in which HBV X protein (HBx) plays crucial roles. MicroRNAs are involved in diverse biologic functions and in carcinogenesis by regulating gene expression. In the present study, we aim to investigate the underlying mechanism by which HBx enhances hepatocarcinogenesis. We found that miR-205 was downregulated in 33 clinical HCC tissues in comparison with adjacent noncancerous hepatic tissues. The expression levels of miR-205 were inversely correlated with those of HBx in abovementioned tissues. Then, we demonstrated that HBx was able to suppress miR-205 expression in hepatoma and liver cells. We validated that miR-205 directly targeted HBx mRNA. Ectopic expression of miR-205 downregulated HBx, whereas depletion of endogenous miR-205 upregulated HBx in hepatoma cells. Notably, our data revealed that HBx downregulated miR-205 through inducing hypermethylation of miR-205 promoter in the cells. In terms of function, the forced miR-205 expression remarkably inhibited the HBx-enhanced proliferation of hepatoma cells in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that miR-205 is a potential tumor-suppressive gene in HCC. HBx-transgenic mice showed that miR-205 was downregulated in the liver. Importantly, HBx was able to abrogate the effect of miR-205 on tumor suppression in carcinogenesis. Therefore, we conclude that HBx is able to inhibit tumor suppressor miR-205 to enhance hepatocarcinogenesis through inducing hypermethylation of miR-205 promoter during their interaction. Therapeutically, miR-205 may be useful in the treatment of HCC.
PMCID: PMC3858896  PMID: 24339740
Physiological reviews  2012;92(4):1515-1542.
S-adenosylmethionine (AdoMet, also known as SAM and SAMe) is the principal biological methyl donor synthesized in all mammalian cells but most abundantly in the liver. Biosynthesis of AdoMet requires the enzyme methionine adenosyltransferase (MAT). In mammals, two genes, MAT1A that is largely expressed by normal liver and MAT2A that is expressed by all extrahepatic tissues, encode MAT. Patients with chronic liver disease have reduced MAT activity and AdoMet levels. Mice lacking Mat1a have reduced hepatic AdoMet levels and develop oxidative stress, steatohepatitis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In these mice, several signaling pathways are abnormal that can contribute to HCC formation. However, injury and HCC also occur if hepatic AdoMet level is excessive chronically. This can result from inactive mutation of the enzyme glycine N-methyltransferase (GNMT). Children with GNMT mutation have elevated liver transaminases, and Gnmt knockout mice develop liver injury, fibrosis, and HCC. Thus a normal hepatic AdoMet level is necessary to maintain liver health and prevent injury and HCC. AdoMet is effective in cholestasis of pregnancy, and its role in other human liver diseases remains to be better defined. In experimental models, it is effective as a chemopreventive agent in HCC and perhaps other forms of cancer as well.
PMCID: PMC3698976  PMID: 23073625
3.  Hepatitis B virus X protein accelerates hepatocarcinogenesis with partner survivin through modulating miR-520b and HBXIP 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13:128.
Hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) plays crucial roles in hepatocarcinogenesis. However, the underlying mechanism remains elusive. We have reported that HBx is able to up-regulate survivin in hepatocellular carcinoma tissues. The oncopreotein hepatitis B X-interacting protein (HBXIP), a target of miR-520b, is involved in the development of cancer. In this study, we focus on the investigation of hepatocarcinogenesis mediated by HBx.
The expression of HBx and survivin was examined in the liver tissues of HBx-Tg mice. The effect of HBx/survivin on the growth of LO2-X-S cells was determined by colony formation and transplantation in nude mice. The effect of HBx/survivin on promoter of miR-520b was determined by Western blot analysis, luciferase reporter gene assay, co-immunoprecipitation (co-IP) and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), respectively. The expression of HBx, survivin and HBXIP was detected by immunohistochemistry and real-time PCR in clinical HCC tissues, respectively. The DNA demethylation of HBXIP promoter was examined. The functional influence of miR-520b and HBXIP on proliferation of hepatoma cells was analyzed by MTT, colony formation, EdU and transplantation in nude mice in vitro and in vivo.
In this study, we provided evidence that HBx up-regulated survivin in the liver cancer tissues of HBx-Tg mice aged 18 M. The engineered LO2 cell lines with survivin and/or HBx were successfully established, termed LO2-X-S. MiR-520b was down-regulated in LO2-X-S cells and clinical HCC tissues. Our data revealed that HBx survivin-dependently down-regulated miR-520b through interacting with Sp1 in the cells. HBXIP was highly expressed in LO2-X-S cells, liver cancer tissues of HBx-Tg mice aged 18 M and clinical HCC tissues (75.17%, 112/149). The expression level of HBXIP was positively associated with those of HBx or survivin in clinical HCC tissues. In addition, we showed that HBx survivin-dependently up-regulated HBXIP through inducing demethylation of HBXIP promoter in LO2-X-S cells and clinical HCC tissues. In function, low level miR-520b and high level HBXIP mediated by HBx with partner survivin contributed to the growth of LO2-X-S cells in vitro and in vivo.
HBx accelerates hepatocarcinogenesis with partner survivin through modulating tumor suppressor miR-520b and oncoprotein HBXIP.
PMCID: PMC4046021  PMID: 24886421
HBx; Survivin; miR-520b; HBXIP; Hepatoma; Hepatocarcinogenesis
4.  S-Adenosylmethionine in cell growth, apoptosis and liver cancer 
Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology  2008;23(Suppl 1):S73-S77.
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe), the principal biological methyl donor, is synthesized from methionine and ATP in a reaction catalyzed by methionine adenosyltransferase (MAT). In mammals, two genes (MAT1A and MAT2A), encode for two homologous MAT catalytic subunits, while a third gene MAT2β, encodes for the β-subunit that regulates MAT2A-encoded isoenzyme. Normal liver expresses MAT1A, whereas extrahepatic tissues express MAT2A. MAT2A and MAT2β are induced in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which facilitate cancer cell growth. Patients with cirrhosis of various etiologies, including alcohol, have decreased hepatic MAT activity and SAMe biosynthesis. Consequences of hepatic SAMe deficiency as illustrated by the Mat1a knock-out mouse model include increased susceptibility to steatosis and oxidative liver injury, spontaneous development of steatohepatitis and HCC. Predisposition to HCC can be partly explained by the effect of SAMe on growth. Thus, SAMe inhibits the mitogenic effect of growth factors such as hepatocyte growth factor and, following partial hepatectomy, a fall in SAMe level is required for the liver to regenerate. During liver regeneration, the fall in hepatic SAMe is transient. If the fall were to persist, it would favor a proliferative phenotype and, ultimately, development of HCC. Not only does SAMe control liver growth, it also regulates apoptosis. Interestingly, SAMe is anti-apoptotic in normal hepatocytes but pro-apoptotic in liver cancer cells. In liver cancer cells but not in normal human hepatocytes, SAMe can selectively induce Bcl-xS, an alternatively spliced isoform of Bcl-xL that promotes apoptosis. This should make SAMe an attractive agent for both chemoprevention and treatment of HCC.
PMCID: PMC2408691  PMID: 18336669
apoptosis; cell proliferation; hepatocellular carcinoma; methionine adenosyltransferase; S-adenosylmethionine
5.  HBx Sensitizes Cells to Oxidative Stress-induced Apoptosis by Accelerating the Loss of Mcl-1 Protein via Caspase-3 Cascade 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:43.
Oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathogenesis of a wide spectrum of human diseases, including Hepatitis B virus (HBV)-related liver disease. Hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) is a key regulator of HBV that exerts pleiotropic activity on cellular functions. Recent studies showed that HBx alters mitochondrial membrane potential, thereby sensitizing cells to pro-apoptotic signals. However, it remains largely unknown whether susceptibility of hepatocytes could be disturbed by HBx under oxidative stress conditions. The purpose of this study is to determine the apoptotic susceptibility of HBx-expressing hepatocytes upon exposure to pro-oxidant stimuli in vitro and in vivo and explore its underlying mechanism.
Although expression of HBx itself did not activate apoptotic signaling, it significantly enhanced oxidative stress-induced cell death both in vitro and in vivo. Interestingly, this phenomenon was associated with a pronounced reduction of protein levels of Mcl-1, but not other anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 members. Importantly, enforced expression of Mcl-1 prevented HBx-triggered cell apoptosis; conversely, specific knockdown of Mcl-1 exacerbated HBx-induced apoptosis upon exposure to oxidative stress. Furthermore, inhibition of caspase-3 not only abrogated HBx-triggered apoptotic killing but also blocked HBx-induced Mcl-1 loss. Additionally, expression of HBx and Mcl-1 was found to be inversely correlated in HBV-related hepatocellular carcinogenesis (HCC) tissues.
Our findings indicate that HBx exerts pro-apoptotic effect upon exposure to oxidative stress probably through accelerating the loss of Mcl-1 protein via caspase-3 cascade, which may shed a new light on the molecular mechanism of HBV-related hepatocarcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3096594  PMID: 21504623
6.  Hepatitis B Virus X Protein Upregulates mTOR Signaling through IKKβ to Increase Cell Proliferation and VEGF Production in Hepatocellular Carcinoma 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41931.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a major cause of cancer-related death in Southeast Asia, is frequently associated with hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. HBV X protein (HBx), encoded by a viral non-structural gene, is a multifunctional regulator in HBV-associated tumor development. We investigated novel signaling pathways underlying HBx-induced liver tumorigenesis and found that the signaling pathway involving IκB kinase β (IKKβ), tuberous sclerosis complex 1 (TSC1), and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) downstream effector S6 kinase (S6K1), was upregulated when HBx was overexpressed in hepatoma cells. HBx-induced S6K1 activation was reversed by IKKβ inhibitor Bay 11-7082 or silencing IKKβ expression using siRNA. HBx upregulated cell proliferation and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) production, and these HBx-upregulated phenotypes were abolished by treatment with IKKβ inhibitor Bay 11-7082 or mTOR inhibitor rapamycin. The association of HBx-modulated IKKβ/mTOR/S6K1 signaling with liver tumorigenesis was verified in a HBx transgenic mouse model in which pIKKβ, pS6K1, and VEGF expression was found to be higher in cancerous than non-cancerous liver tissues. Furthermore, we also found that pIKKβ levels were strongly correlated with pTSC1 and pS6K1 levels in HBV-associated hepatoma tissue specimens taken from 95 patients, and that higher pIKKβ, pTSC1, and pS6K1 levels were correlated with a poor prognosis in these patients. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that HBx deregulates TSC1/mTOR signaling through IKKβ, which is crucially linked to HBV-associated HCC development.
PMCID: PMC3407061  PMID: 22848663
7.  Polyamine and Methionine Adenosyltransferase 2A Crosstalk in Human Colon and Liver Cancer 
Experimental cell research  2013;319(12):1902-1911.
Methionine adenosyltransferase (MAT) is an essential enzyme that is responsible for the biosynthesis of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), the principal methyl donor and precursor of polyamines. MAT1A is expressed in normal liver and MAT2A is expressed in all extrahepatic tissues. MAT2A expression is increased in human colon cancer and in colon cancer cells treated with mitogens whereas silencing MAT2A resulted in apoptosis. The aim of the current work was to examine the mechanism responsible for MAT2A-dependent growth and apoptosis. We found that in RKO (human adenocarcinoma cell line) cells, MAT2A siRNA treatment lowered cellular SAMe and putrescine levels by 70 to 75%, increased apoptosis and inhibited growth. Putrescine supplementation blunted significantly MAT2A siRNA-induced apoptosis and growth suppression. Putrescine treatment (100 pmol/L) raised MAT2A mRNA level to 4.3-fold of control, increased the expression of c-Jun and c-Fos and binding to an AP-1 site in the human MAT2A promoter and the promoter activity. In human colon cancer specimens, the expression levels of MAT2A, ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), c-Jun and c-Fos are all elevated as compared to adjacent non-tumorous tissues. Overexpression of ODC in RKO cells also raised MAT2A mRNA level and MAT2A promoter activity. ODC and MAT2A are also overexpressed in liver cancer and consistently, similar MAT2A-ODC-putrescine interactions and effects on growth and apoptosis were observed in HepG2 cells. In conclusion, there is a crosstalk between polyamines and MAT2A. Increased MAT2A expression provides more SAMe for polyamines biosynthesis; increased polyamine (putrescine in this case) can activate MAT2A at the transcriptional level. This along with increased ODC expression in cancer all feed forward to further enhance the proliferative capacity of the cancer cell.
PMCID: PMC3700574  PMID: 23588207
methionine adenosyltransferase 2A; putrescine; AP-1; colon cancer; liver cancer
8.  Role of hepatitis B virus X protein in regulating LIM and SH3 protein 1 (LASP-1) expression to mediate proliferation and migration of hepatoma cells 
Virology Journal  2012;9:163.
Hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) has been shown to be responsible for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) caused by Hepatitis B virus infection. However, its potential effect on the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma remains yet unclear. LIM and SH3 protein 1 (LASP-1), a focal adhesion protein, is expressed in an up-regulation manner in the HCC tissues. LASP-1 plays an important role in the regulation of proliferation and migration of HCC. In this study, we investigated the effect of LASP-1 involved in HBx-related tumor progression.
LASP-1 levels in the HBx stable transfected HepG2 and Huh-7 cells were detected by RT-PCR and western blot analysis. The cellular localization of LASP-1 was assessed by immunofluorescence analysis. The activity of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) pathway was demonstrated by western blot assay. The HBx-expressing cells were transfected with specific small interference RNA (siRNA) against LASP-1. The proliferation and migration ability of cells were evaluated by cell viability assay and plate clone formation assay. The migration ability of cells was detected by transwell assay and wound healing assay.
RT-PCR and western blot analysis indicated the expression of LASP-1 was increased in the stable HBx-expressing cells compared with the control cells. Immunofluorescence study revealed that the distributions of LASP-1 in HepG2-HBX cells were mainly in pseudopods and the cytoplasm while they were mainly localized in the cytoplasm of HepG2-Mock cells. The cellular localizations of LASP-1 in Huh-7-HBX cells were in the perinuclear fractions while they were mainly localized in the cytoplasm of Huh-7-Mock cells. The upregulation of LASP-1 was inhibited after treatment with LY294002, PI3-K pathway inhibitor. Overexpression of LASP-1 in the stable HBx-expressing cells enhanced the proliferation and migration ability of hepatocellular cells. siRNA-mediated LASP-1 knowdown in the stable HBx-expressing cells significantly suppressed hepatocellular cells proliferation and migration.
These results demonstrated that HBx could upregulate LASP-1 through PI3-K pathway to promote the proliferation and migration of hepatoma cells.
PMCID: PMC3459728  PMID: 22897902
HBx; LASP-1; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Proliferation; Migration
9.  Hepatitis B virus X protein upregulates HSP90alpha expression via activation of c-Myc in human hepatocarcinoma cell line, HepG2 
Virology Journal  2010;7:45.
The Hepatitis B Virus X protein (HBx) plays a major role in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development, however, its contribution to tumor invasion and metastasis has not been established so far. Heat shock protein 90 alpha (HSP90alpha) isoform is an ATP-dependent molecular chaperone that maintains the active conformation of client oncoproteins in cancer cells, which is abundantly expressed in HCC, especially in hepatitis B virus (HBV)-related tumors, might be involved in tumor progression.
The levels of HSP90alpha, extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), phosphorylated ERK1/2 (p-ERK1/2) and c-Myc in HBx-transfected HepG2 cells were determined by western blots analysis. The endogenous ERKs activity was demonstrated by ELISA assay. The regulation of c-Myc-mediated HSP90 alpha promoter transactivation by HBx was evaluated through electrophoretic mobility shift analysis (EMSA). The c-Myc-mediated HSP90alpha transcription was analysed by promoter assay. The HBx-expressing cells were transfected with specific small interference RNA (siRNA) against c-Myc. The in vitro invasion potentials of cells were evaluated by Transwell cell invasion assay.
HBx induces HSP90alpha expression at the transcription level. The induction effect of HBx was inhibited after treatment with c-Myc inhibitor, 10058-F4. In addition, the luciferase activity of the HSP90alpha promoter analysis revealed that the HBx is directly involved in the c-Myc-mediated transcriptional activation of HSP90alpha. Furthermore, HBx induces c-Myc expression by activation of Ras/Raf/ERK1/2 cascades, which in turn results in activation of the c-Myc-mediated HSP90alpha promoter and subsequently up-regulation of the HSP90alpha expression. Overexpression of HSP90alpha in HBx-transfected cells enhances tumor cells invasion. siRNA-mediated c-Myc knockdown in HBx-transfected cells significantly suppressed HSP90alpha expression and cells invasion in vitro.
These results demonstrate the ability of HBx to promote tumor cells invasion by a mechanism involving the up-regulation of HSP90alpha and provide new insights into the mechanism of action of HBx and its involvement in tumor metastasis and recurrence of HCC.
PMCID: PMC2841080  PMID: 20170530
10.  Carboxyl-Terminal Truncated HBx Regulates a Distinct MicroRNA Transcription Program in Hepatocellular Carcinoma Development 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22888.
The biological pathways and functional properties by which misexpressed microRNAs (miRNAs) contribute to liver carcinogenesis have been intensively investigated. However, little is known about the upstream mechanisms that deregulate miRNA expressions in this process. In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), hepatitis B virus (HBV) X protein (HBx), a transcriptional trans-activator, is frequently expressed in truncated form without carboxyl-terminus but its role in miRNA expression and HCC development is unclear.
Human non-tumorigenic hepatocytes were infected with lentivirus-expressing full-length and carboxyl-terminal truncated HBx (Ct-HBx) for cell growth assay and miRNA profiling. Chromatin immunoprecipitation microarray was performed to identify the miRNA promoters directly associated with HBx. Direct transcriptional control was verified by luciferase reporter assay. The differential miRNA expressions were further validated in a cohort of HBV-associated HCC tissues using real-time PCR.
Hepatocytes expressing Ct-HBx grew significantly faster than the full-length HBx counterparts. Ct-HBx decreased while full-length HBx increased the expression of a set of miRNAs with growth-suppressive functions. Interestingly, Ct-HBx bound to and inhibited the transcriptional activity of some of these miRNA promoters. Notably, some of the examined repressed-miRNAs (miR-26a, -29c, -146a and -190) were also significantly down-regulated in a subset of HCC tissues with carboxyl-terminal HBx truncation compared to their matching non-tumor tissues, highlighting the clinical relevance of our data.
Our results suggest that Ct-HBx directly regulates miRNA transcription and in turn promotes hepatocellular proliferation, thus revealing a viral contribution of miRNA deregulation during hepatocarcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3150371  PMID: 21829663
11.  Hepatitis B virus X protein and the estrogen receptor variant lacking exon 5 inhibit estrogen receptor signaling in hepatoma cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(10):3095-3106.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) X protein (HBx) is considered to play a role in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) during HBV infection. HCC was shown to be more prevalent in men than in women. Estrogen, which exerts its biological function through estrogen receptor (ER), can inhibit HBV replication. ERΔ5, an ERα variant lacking exon 5, was found to be preferentially expressed in patients with HCC compared with patients with normal livers. Here, we report the biological role of ERΔ5 and a novel link between HBx and ERα signaling in hepatoma cells. ERΔ5 interacts with ERα in vitro and in vivo and functions as a dominant negative receptor. Both ERα and ERΔ5 associate with HBx. HBx decreases ERα-dependent transcriptional activity, and HBx and ERΔ5 have additive effect on suppression of ERα transactivation. The HBx deletion mutant that lacks the ERα-binding site abolishes the HBx repression of ERα. HBx, ERα and histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC1) form a ternary complex. Trichostatin A, a specific inhibitor of HDAC enzyme, can restore the transcriptional activity of ERα inhibited by HBx. Our data suggest that HBx and ERΔ5 may play a negative role in ERα signaling and that ERα agonists may be developed for HCC therapy.
PMCID: PMC1475750  PMID: 16757575
12.  Interaction of Mutant Hepatitis B X Protein With p53 Tumor Suppressor Protein Affects Both Transcription and Cell Survival 
Molecular carcinogenesis  2011;50(12):972-980.
This study examines the differential activities between wild-type Hepatitis B virus X protein (WtHBx) and a mutant HBx (MutHBx), which bears a hotspot mutation at nucleotides 1762 and 1764, resulting in a lysine to methionine change at codon 130 and a valine to isoleucine change at codon 131. This mutation leads to hepatocellular carcinoma, and we evaluated how WtHBx and MutHBx proteins differ in their interactions with the p53 tumor suppressor protein. This was experimentally addressed through co-immunoprecipitation assays examining the interaction between WtHBx and MutHBx proteins with p53, reporter assays determining the impact of the HBx proteins on p53-mediated gene transcription, and clonogenic survival assays evaluating the effect of HBx on cell growth in lines of varying p53-expression status.
Both WtHBx and MutHBx proteins physically interact with p53 protein, but have different impacts on p53-mediated gene transcription. WtHBx did not effect p53-mediated gene transcription, whereas MutHBx inhibited it (p<0.01). MutHBx inhibited colony formation in p53-proficient cells (p<0.01), but not p53-deficient lines. Although both HBx proteins interact with p53, they affect p53-mediated gene transcription differently. WtHBx has no effect, whereas MutHBx inhibits it. In clonogenic survival assays, MutHBx inhibited cell growth in p53-proficient cells rather than enhanced it. This suggests that for MutHBx to behave oncogenically, the p53 pathway must be crippled or absent. This study has identified some important novel ways in which WtHBx and MutHBx differentially interact with p53 and this could begin to form the cellular explanation for the association between this particular mutant and liver cancer.
PMCID: PMC3125428  PMID: 21438026
Hepatitis B virus; Hepatitis B virus X protein; p53; hepatocellular carcinoma; risk factor
13.  HBx Inhibits CYP2E1 Gene Expression via Downregulating HNF4α in Human Hepatoma Cells 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107913.
CYP2E1, one of the cytochrome P450 mixed-function oxidases located predominantly in liver, plays a key role in metabolism of xenobiotics including ethanol and procarcinogens. Recently, down-expression of CYP2E1 was found in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with the majority to be chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers. In this study, we tested a hypothesis that HBx may inhibit CYP2E1 gene expression via hepatocyte nuclear factor 4α (HNF4α). By enforced HBx gene expression in cultured HepG2 cells, we determined the effect of HBx on CYP2E1 mRNA and protein expression. With a bioinformatics analysis, we found a consensus HNF-4α binding sequence located on −318 to −294 bp upstream of human CYP2E1 promoter. Using reporter gene assay and site-directed mutagenesis, we have shown that mutation of this site dramatically decreased CYP2E1 promoter activity. By silencing endogenous HNF-4α, we have further validated knockdown of HNF-4α significantly decreased CYP2E1expression. Ectopic overexpression of HBx in HepG2 cells inhibits HNF-4α expression, and HNF-4α levels were inversely correlated with viral proteins both in HBV-infected HepG2215 cells and as well as HBV positive HCC liver tissues. Moreover, the HBx-induced CYP2E1 reduction could be rescued by ectopic supplement of HNF4α protein expression. Furthermore, human hepatoma cells C34, which do not express CYP2E1, shows enhanced cell growth rate compared to E47, which constitutively expresses CYP2E1. In addition, the significantly altered liver proteins in CYP2E1 knockout mice were detected with proteomics analysis. Together, HBx inhibits human CYP2E1 gene expression via downregulating HNF4α which contributes to promotion of human hepatoma cell growth. The elucidation of a HBx-HNF4α-CYP2E1 pathway provides novel insight into the molecular mechanism underlining chronic HBV infection associated hepatocarcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4169590  PMID: 25238230
14.  Altered Proteolysis and Global Gene Expression in Hepatitis B Virus X Transgenic Mouse Liver 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(3):1405-1413.
Hepatitis B virus X (HBX) is essential for the productive infection of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in vivo and has a pleiotropic effect on host cells. We have previously demonstrated that the proteasome complex is a cellular target of HBX, that HBX alters the proteolytic activity of proteasome in vitro, and that inhibition of proteasome leads to enhanced viral replication, suggesting that HBX and proteasome interaction plays a crucial role in the life cycle and pathogenesis of HBV. In the present study, we tested the effect of HBX on the proteasome activities in vivo in a transgenic mouse model in which HBX expression is developmentally regulated by the mouse major urinary promoter in the liver. In addition, microarray analysis was performed to examine the effect of HBX expression on the global gene expression profile of the liver. The results showed that the peptidase activities of the proteasome were reduced in the HBX transgenic mouse liver, whereas the activity of another cellular protease was elevated, suggesting a compensatory mechanism in protein degradation. In the microarray analysis, diverse genes were altered in the HBX mouse livers and the number of genes with significant changes increased progressively with age. Functional clustering showed that a number of genes involved in transcription and cell growth were significantly affected in the HBX mice, possibly accounting for the observed pleiotropic effect of HBX. In particular, insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 1 was down-regulated in the HBX mouse liver. The down-regulation was similarly observed during acute woodchuck hepatitis virus infection. Other changes including up-regulation of proteolysis-related genes may also contribute to the profound alterations of liver functions in HBV infection.
PMCID: PMC1346956  PMID: 16415018
15.  Epigenetic repression of E-cadherin expression by Hepatitis B virus x Antigen (HBx) in liver cancer 
Oncogene  2011;31(5):563-572.
Loss of E-cadherin is associated with acquisition of metastatic capacity. Numerous studies suggest histone deacetylation and/or hypermethylation of CpG islands in E-cadherin gene (CDH1) are major mechanisms responsible for E-cadherin silencing in different tumors and cancer cell lines. The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) encoded X antigen, HBx, contributes importantly to the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) using multiple mechanisms. Experiments were designed to test if in addition to CDH1 hypermethylation HBx promotes epigenetic modulation of E-cadherin transcriptional activity through histone deacetylation and miR-373. The relationships between HBx, E-cadherin, mSin3A, Snail-1 and miR-373 were evaluated in HBx expressing (HepG2X) and control (HepG2CAT) cells by western blotting, immunoprecipitation, chromatin immunoprecipitation as well as by immunohistochemical staining of liver and tumor tissue sections from HBV infected patients. In HepG2X cells, decreased levels of E-cadherin and elevated levels of mSin3A and Snail-1 were detected. Reciprocal immunoprecipitation with anti-HBx and anti-mSin3A demonstrated mutual binding. Further, HBx-mSin3A co-localization was detected by immunofluorescent staining. HBx down-regulated E-cadherin expression by the recruitment of the mSin3A/HDAC complex to the Snail-binding sites in human CDH1. Histone deacetylation inhibition by Trichostatin A treatment restored E-cadherin expression. Mir-373, a positive regulator of E-cadherin expression, was down-regulated by HBx in HepG2X cells and tissue sections from HBV infected patients. Thus, histone deacetylation of CDH1 and down-regulation of miR-373, together with the previously demonstrated hyper-methylation of CDH1 by HBx, may be important for the understanding of HBV-related carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3183380  PMID: 21706058
Hepatocellular carcinoma; mSin3A; Snail-1; HDAC; miR-373
16.  MicroRNA-21-3p, a Berberine-Induced miRNA, Directly Down-Regulates Human Methionine Adenosyltransferases 2A and 2B and Inhibits Hepatoma Cell Growth 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e75628.
Methionine adenosyltransferase (MAT) is the cellular enzyme that catalyzes the synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), the principal biological methyl donor and a key regulator of hepatocyte proliferation, death and differentiation. Two genes, MAT1A and MAT2A, encode 2 distinct catalytic MAT isoforms. A third gene, MAT2B, encodes a MAT2A regulatory subunit. In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), MAT1A downregulation and MAT2A upregulation occur, known as the MAT1A:MAT2A switch. The switch is accompanied with an increasing expression of MAT2B, which results in decreased SAM levels and facilitates cancer cell growth. Berberine, an isoquinoline alkaloid isolated from many medicinal herbs such as Coptis chinensis, has a wide range of pharmacological effects including anti-cancer effects. Because drug-induced microRNAs have recently emerged as key regulators in guiding their pharmacological effects, we examined whether microRNA expression is differentially altered by berberine treatment in HCC. In this study, we used microRNA microarrays to find that the expression level of miR-21-3p (previously named miR-21*) increased after berberine treatment in the HepG2 human hepatoma cell line. To predict the putative targets of miR-21-3p, we integrated the gene expression profiles of HepG2 cells after berberine treatment by comparing with a gene list generated from sequence-based microRNA target prediction software. We then confirmed these predictions through transfection of microRNA mimics and a 3′ UTR reporter assay. Our findings provide the first evidence that miR-21-3p directly reduces the expression of MAT2A and MAT2B by targeting their 3′ UTRs. In addition, an overexpression of miR-21-3p increased intracellular SAM contents, which have been proven to be a growth disadvantage for hepatoma cells. The overexpression of miR-21-3p suppresses growth and induces apoptosis in HepG2 cells. Overall, our results demonstrate that miR-21-3p functions as a tumor suppressor by directly targeting both MAT2A and MAT2B, indicating its therapeutic potential in HCC.
PMCID: PMC3787033  PMID: 24098708
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2012;55(6):1942-1953.
Background and rationale
Methionine adenosyltransferases (MAT) are critical enzymes that catalyze the formation of the methyl donor, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). The MAT2A gene, which encodes the catalytic subunit α2, is induced in de-differentiated liver. We previously demonstrated that MAT2A expression is enhanced in activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and silencing this gene reduces HSC activation. In this study we examined the molecular mechanisms responsible for the transcriptional regulation of the MAT2A gene in HSCs.
We identified peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) response elements (PPREs) in the rat MAT2A promoter. The PPARγ agonist, rosiglitazone (RSG) promoted quiescence in the activated rat HSC cell line (BSC) or culture-activated primary rat HSCs, decreased MAT2A expression and promoter activity and enhanced PPARγ binding to MAT2A PPREs. In vivo HSC activation in bile duct ligated (BDL) rats lowered PPARγ interaction with MAT2A PPREs. Silencing PPARγ increased MAT2A transcription whereas over-expressing it had the opposite effect demonstrating that PPARγ negatively controls this gene. Site-directed mutagenesis of PPREs abolished PPARγ recruitment to the MAT2A promoter and its inhibitory effect on MAT2A transcription in quiescent HSCs. PPRE mutations decreased the basal promoter activity of MAT2A in activated HSCs independent of PPARγ, indicating that other factors might be involved in PPRE interaction. We identified PPARβ binding to wild type but not to mutated PPREs, in activated cells. Furthermore, silencing PPARβ inhibited MAT2A expression and promoter activity. Forced expression of MAT2A in RSG-treated HSCs lowered PPARγ and enhanced PPARβ expression, thereby promoting an activated phenotype.
We have identified PPARγ as a negative regulator of MAT2A in quiescent HSCs. A switch from quiescence to activation state abolishes this control and allows PPARβ to up-regulate MAT2A transcription.
PMCID: PMC3342421  PMID: 22271545
Fibrosis; Fibrogenesis; Bile duct ligation; DNA response elements; S-adenosylmethionine
18.  Differential Functions of C- and N-Terminal Hepatitis B x Protein in Liver Cells Treated with Doxorubicin in Normoxic or Hypoxic Condition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50118.
Hepatitis viral B x protein (HBx), a hepatocarcinogen, is frequently mutated. Hypoxia influences the growth of HCC and also the sensitivity of tumor cells to treatments. We aimed to test the role of HBx and acute hypoxia in the efficacy of chemotherapy. In this study, we established 4 Chang liver cell lines with the full-length HBx (HBx), the first 50 amino acids of N-terminal HBx (HBx/50), the last 104 amino acids of C-terminal HBx (HBx/51) and empty vector (CL), respectively. MTT and TNUEL assays were used to assess cell viability and apoptosis respectively. Western blot was used to determine the expression of relevant proteins. Results showed that among 4 cell lines, doxorubicin was most effective in decreasing the viability and enhancing apoptosis in HBx/51 cells, while HBx/50 cells were most resistant to the treatment. Cells in hypoxia were more susceptible to doxorubicin than cells in normoxia. Hypoxia facilitated the Bid cleavage especially in HBx/51 cells via phosphorylating p38 MAPK. p38 MAPK inhibitor significantly reduced the tBid level and increased cell viability. In conclusion, N-terminal HBx and C-terminal HBx function differentially in their ability to regulate cell growth, with the former being promotive but the latter being inhibitory. The acute hypoxia may overcome the HBx-induced resistance and facilitate the chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3510201  PMID: 23209654
19.  Hedgehog signaling blockade delays hepatocarcinogenesis induced by hepatitis B virus X (HBx) protein 
Cancer research  2012;72(22):5912-5920.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) encoded X protein (HBx) contributes centrally to the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Aberrant activation of the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway has been linked to many tumor types including HCC. Thus, experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that HBx promotes HCC via activation of Hh signaling. HBx expression correlated with an up-regulation of Hh markers in human liver cancer cell lines, in liver samples from HBV infected patients with HCC, and in the livers of HBx transgenic mice (HBxTg) that develop hepatitis, steatosis, and dysplasia, culminating in the appearance of HCC. The findings in human samples provide clinical validation for the in vitro results and those in the HBxTg. Blockade of Hh signaling inhibited HBx stimulation of cell migration, anchorage independent growth, tumor development in HBxTg and xenograft growth in nude mice. Results suggest that the ability of HBx to promote cancer is at least partially dependent upon the activation of the Hh pathway. This study provides biological evidence for the role of Hh signaling in the pathogenesis of HBV mediated HCC and suggests cause and effect for the first time. The observation that inhibition of Hh signaling partially blocked the ability of HBx to promote growth and migration in vitro and tumorigenesis in two animal models implies that Hh signaling may represent an “oncogene addiction” pathway for HBV associated HCC. This work could be central to designing specific treatments that target early development and progression of HBx mediated HCC.
PMCID: PMC3521045  PMID: 22986746
HBx transgenic mice; Hedgehog signaling; Gli2; GDC-0449
20.  HBx-Induced NF-κB Signaling in Liver Cells Is Potentially Mediated by the Ternary Complex of HBx with p22-FLIP and NEMO 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e57331.
Sustained activation of NF-κB is one of the causative factors for various liver diseases, including liver inflammation and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). It has been known that activating the NF-κB signal by hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) is implicated in the development of HCC. However, despite numerous studies on HBx-induced NF-κB activation, the detailed mechanisms still remain unsolved. Recently, p22-FLIP, a cleavage product of c-FLIPL, has been reported to induce NF-κB activation through interaction with the IκB kinase (IKK) complex in primary immune cells. Since our previous report on the interaction of HBx with c-FLIPL, we explored whether p22-FLIP is involved in the modulation of HBx function. First, we identified the expression of endogenous p22-FLIP in liver cells. NF-κB reporter assay and electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) revealed that the expression of p22-FLIP synergistically enhances HBx-induced NF-κB activation. Moreover, we found that HBx physically interacts with p22-FLIP and NEMO and potentially forms a ternary complex. Knock-down of c-FLIP leading to the downregulation of p22-FLIP showed that endogenous p22-FLIP is involved in HBx-induced NF-κB activation, and the formation of a ternary complex is necessary to activate NF-κB signaling. In conclusion, we showed a novel mechanism of HBx-induced NF-κB activation in which ternary complex formation is involved among HBx, p22-FLIP and NEMO. Our findings will extend the understanding of HBx-induced NF-κB activation and provide a new target for intervention in HBV-associated liver diseases and in the development of HCC.
PMCID: PMC3587578  PMID: 23483900
21.  Differential effects on apoptosis induction in hepatocyte lines by stable expression of hepatitis B virus X protein 
AIM: Hepatitis B virus protein X (HBx) has been shown to be weakly oncogenic in vitro. The transforming activities of HBx have been linked with the inhibition of several functions of the tumor suppressor p53. We have studied whether HBx may have different effects on p53 depending on the cell type.
METHODS: We used the human hepatoma cell line HepG2 and the immortalized murine hepatocyte line AML12 and analyzed stably transfected clones which expressed physiological amounts of HBx. P53 was induced by UV irradiation.
RESULTS: The p53 induction by UV irradiation was unaffected by stable expression of HBx. However, the expression of the cyclin kinase inhibitor p21waf/cip/sdi which gets activated by p53 was affected in the HBx transformed cell line AML12-HBx9, but not in HepG2. In AML-HBx9 cells, p21waf/cip/sdi-protein expression and p21waf/cip/sdi transcription were deregulated. Furthermore, the process of apoptosis was affected in opposite ways in the two cell lines investigated. While stable expression of HBx enhanced apoptosis induced by UV irradiation in HepG2-cells, apoptosis was decreased in HBx transformed AML12-HBx9. P53 repressed transcription from the HBV enhancer I, when expressed from expression vectors or after induction of endogenous p53 by UV irradiation. Repression by endogenous p53 was partially reversible by stably expressed HBx in both cell lines.
CONCLUSION: Stable expression of HBx leads to deregulation of apoptosis induced by UV irradiation depending on the cell line used. In an immortalized hepatocyte line HBx acted anti-apoptotic whereas expression in a carcinoma derived hepatocyte line HBx enhanced apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC4087832  PMID: 16937438
Apoptosis; Hepatitis B virus; Hepatocyte lines
22.  The X-Linked Tumor Suppressor TSPX Interacts and Promotes Degradation of the Hepatitis B Viral Protein HBx via the Proteasome Pathway 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22979.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a major risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and it is a serious global health problem with two billion people exposed to it worldwide. HBx, an essential factor for viral replication and a putative oncoprotein encoded by the HBV genome, has been shown to promote oncogenic properties at multiple sites in HBV-infected liver cells. The expression level of HBx closely associates with the development and progression of HCC, therefore the mechanism(s) regulating the stability of HBx is important in oncogenesis of HBV-infected cells. We demonstrate that the X-linked tumor suppressor TSPX enhances the degradation of HBx through the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. TSPX interacts with both HBx and a proteasome 19S lid subunit RPN3 via its C-terminal acidic tail. Most importantly, over-expression of RPN3 protects HBx from, and hence acts as a negative regulator for, proteasome-dependent degradation. TSPX abrogates the RPN3-depedent stabilization of HBx, suggesting that TSPX and RPN3 act competitively in regulation of HBx stability. Since mutation and/or epigenetic repression of X-located tumor suppressor gene(s) could significantly predispose males to human cancers, our data suggest that TSPX-induced HBx degradation could play key role(s) in hepatocarcinogenesis among HBV-infected HCC patients.
PMCID: PMC3146538  PMID: 21829568
23.  The Effect of miR-338-3p on HBx Deletion-Mutant (HBx-d382) Mediated Liver-Cell Proliferation through CyclinD1 Regulation 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43204.
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) DNA integration and HBV X (HBx) deletion mutation occurs in HBV-positive liver cancer patients, and C-terminal deletion in HBx gene mutants are highly associated with hepatocarcinogenesis. Our previous study found that the HBx-d382 deletion mutant (deleted at nt 382–400) can down-regulate miR-338-3p expression in HBx-expressing cells. The aim of the present study is to examine the role of miR-338-3p in the HBx-d382-mediated liver-cell proliferation.
We established HBx-expressing LO2 cells by Lipofectamine 2000 transfection. A miR-338-3p mimics or inhibitor was transfected into LO2/HBx-d382 and LO2/HBx cells using miR-NC as a control miRNA. In silico analysis of potential miR-338-3p targets revealed that miR-338-3p could target the cell cycle regulatory protein CyclinD1. To confirm that CyclinD1 is negatively regulated by miR-338-3p, we constructed luciferase reporters with wild-type and mutated CyclinD1-3′UTR target sites for miR-338-3p binding. We examined the CyclinD1 expression by real-time PCR and western blot, and proliferation activity by flow cytometric cell cycle analysis, Edu incorporation, and soft agar colony.
HBx-d382 exhibited enhanced proliferation and CyclinD1 expression in LO2 cells. miR-338-3p expression inhibited cell proliferation in LO2/HBx-d382 cells (and LO2/HBx cells), and also negatively regulated CyclinD1 protein expression. Of the two putative miR-338-3p binding sites in the CyclinD1-3′UTR region, the effect of miR-338-3p on the second binding site (nt 2397–2403) was required for the inhibition.
miR-338-3p can directly regulate CyclinD1 expression through binding to the CyclinD1-3′UTR region, mainly at nt 2397–2403. Down-regulation of miR-338-3p expression is required for liver cell proliferation in both LO2/HBx and LO2/HBx-d382 mutant cells, although the effect is more pronounced in LO2/HBx-d382 cells. Our study elucidated a novel mechanism, from a new miRNA-regulation perspective, underlying the propensity of HBx deletion mutants to induce hepatocarcinogenesis at a faster rate than HBx.
PMCID: PMC3422285  PMID: 22912826
24.  Role of NF-κB and Myc Proteins in Apoptosis Induced by Hepatitis B Virus HBx Protein 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(1):215-225.
Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) promotes a high level of liver disease and cancer in humans. The HBV HBx gene encodes a small regulatory protein that is essential for viral replication and is suspected to play a role in viral pathogenesis. HBx stimulates cytoplasmic signal transduction pathways, moderately stimulates a number of transcription factors, including several nuclear factors, and in certain settings sensitizes cells to apoptosis by proapoptotic stimuli, including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and etopocide. Paradoxically, HBx activates members of the NF-κB transcription factor family, some of which are antiapoptotic in function. HBx induces expression of Myc protein family members in certain settings, and Myc can sensitize cells to killing by TNF-α. We therefore examined the roles of NF-κB, c-Myc, and TNF-α in apoptotic killing of cells by HBx. RelA/NF-κB is shown to be induced by HBx and to suppress HBx-mediated apoptosis. HBx also induces c-Rel/NF-κB, which can promote apoptotic cell death in some contexts or block it in others. Induction of c-Rel by HBx was found to inhibit its ability to directly mediate apoptotic killing of cells. Thus, HBx induction of NF-κB family members masks its ability to directly mediate apoptosis, whereas ablation of NF-κB reveals it. Investigation of the role of Myc protein demonstrates that overexpression of Myc is essential for acute sensitization of cells to killing by HBx plus TNF-α. This study therefore defines a specific set of parameters which must be met for HBx to possibly contribute to HBV pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC113915  PMID: 11119591
25.  Hepatitis B virus X protein accelerates the development of hepatoma 
Cancer Biology & Medicine  2014;11(3):182-190.
The chronic infection of hepatitis B virus (HBV) is closely related to the occurrence and development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Accumulated evidence has shown that HBV X protein (HBx protein) is a multifunctional regulator with a crucial role in hepatocarcinogenesis. However, information on the mechanism by which HBV induces HCC is lacking. This review focuses on the pathological functions of HBx in HBV-induced hepatocarcinogenesis. As a transactivator, HBx can modulate nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) and transcription factor AP-2. Moreover, HBx can affect regulatory non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) including microRNAs and long ncRNAs (lncRNAs), such as miRNA-205 and highly upregulated in liver cancer (HULC), respectively. HBx is also involved in epigenetic modification, including methylation and acetylation. HBx interacts with various signal-transduction pathways, such as protein kinase B/Akt, Wnt/β-catenin, signal transducer and activator of transcription, and NF-κB pathways. Moreover, HBx affects cellular fate by shifting the balance toward cell survival. HBx may lead to the loss of apoptotic functions or directly contributes to oncogenesis by achieving transforming functions, which induce hepatocarcinogenesis. Additionally, HBx can modulate apoptosis and immune response by direct or indirect interaction with host factors. We conclude that HBx hastens the development of hepatoma.
PMCID: PMC4197427  PMID: 25364579
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); hepatitis B virus (HBV); HBV X protein (HBx protein); hepatocarcinogenesis

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