Background and Aim: The risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) persists in a condition of sustained virologic response (SVR) after hepatitis C virus (HCV) eradication. Comprehensive molecular analyses were performed to test the hypothesis that epigenetic abnormalities present after an SVR play a role in hepatocarcinogenesis. Methods: Whole-genome methylome and RNA sequencing were performed on HCV, SVR, and healthy liver tissue. Integrated analysis of the sequencing data focused on expression changes in transcription factors and their target genes, commonly found in HCV and SVR. Identified expression changes were validated in demethylated cultured HCC cell lines and an independent validation cohort. Results: The coincidence rates of the differentially methylated regions between the HCV and SVR groups were 91% in the hypomethylated and 71% in the hypermethylated regions in tumorous tissues, and 37% in the hypomethylated and 36% in the hypermethylated regions in non-tumorous tissues. These results indicate that many epigenomic abnormalities persist even after an SVR was achieved. Integrated analysis identified 61 transcription factors and 379 other genes that had methylation abnormalities and gene expression changes in both groups. Validation cohort specified gene expression changes for 14 genes, and gene ontology pathway analysis revealed apoptotic signaling and inflammatory response were associated with these genes. Conclusion: This study demonstrates that DNA methylation abnormalities, retained after HCV eradication, affect the expression of transcription factors and their target genes. These findings suggest that DNA methylation in SVR patients may be functionally important in carcinogenesis, and could serve as biomarkers to predict HCC occurrence.
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