Background & Aims: Several groups have reported the significance of circulating microRNA as a biochemical marker of cancer. To our knowledge, however, there are no reports on the significance of circulating microRNA in hepatocellular carcinoma. The aim of this study was to evaluate the significance of plasma microRNA-21 level as a biochemical marker for hepatocellular carcinoma. Methods: Plasma microRNA-21 level was measured by qRT-PCR in 10 patients before and after curative resection of hepatocellular carcinoma. Plasma microRNA-21 was also compared in other groups of: 126 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, 30 patients with chronic hepatitis, and 50 healthy volunteers. The power of microRNA-21 in differentiating hepatocellular carcinoma from chronic hepatitis or from healthy volunteers was compared to that of α-fetoprotein. Results: In the 10-patient group, plasma microRNA-21 levels significantly diminished after surgery compared with the pre-operative values (p = 0.0125). Plasma microRNA-21 level in the 126 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma was significantly higher than in patients with chronic hepatitis and healthy volunteers (p <0.0001, p <0.0001, respectively). ROC analysis of plasma microRNA-21 yielded an AUC of 0.773 with 61.1% sensitivity and 83.3% specificity when differentiating hepatocellular carcinoma from chronic hepatitis, and an AUC of 0.953 with 87.3% sensitivity and 92.0% specificity when differentiating hepatocellular carcinoma from healthy volunteers. Both sets of values were superior to α-fetoprotein and improved for the combination of microRNA-21 and α-fetoprotein. Conclusions: Plasma microRNA-21 level is a promising biochemical marker for hepatocellular carcinoma.
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