Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major risk factor for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The HBV encoded oncoprotein, HBx, alters the expression of host genes and the activity of multiple signal transduction pathways that contribute to the pathogenesis of HCC by multiple mechanisms independent of HBV replication. However, it is not clear which pathways are the most relevant therapeutic targets in hepatocarcinogenesis. Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) have strong anti-inflammatory and anti-neoplastic properties, suggesting that they may block the progression of chronic liver disease (CLD) to HCC, thereby identifying the mechanisms relevant to HCC development. This hypothesis was tested in HBx transgenic (HBxTg) mice fed SCFAs. Groups of HBxTg mice were fed with SCFAs or vehicle from 6 to 9 months of age and then assessed for dysplasia, and from 9 to 12 months of age and then assessed for HCC. Livers from 12 month old mice were then analyzed for changes in gene expression by mass spectrometry-based proteomics. SCFA-fed mice had significantly fewer dysplastic and HCC nodules compared to controls at 9 and 12 months, respectively. Pathway analysis of SCFA-fed mice showed down-regulation of signaling pathways altered by HBx in human CLD and HCC, including those involved in inflammation, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, epidermal growth factor, and Ras. SCFA treatment promoted increased expression of the tumor suppressor, disabled homolog 2 (DAB2). DAB2 depresses Ras pathway activity, which is constitutively activated by HBx. SCFAs also reduced cell viability in HBx-transfected cell lines in a dose-dependent manner while the viability of primary human hepatocytes was unaffected. These unique findings demonstrate that SCFAs delay the pathogenesis of CLD and development of HCC, and provide insight into some of the underlying mechanisms that are relevant to pathogenesis in that they are responsive to treatment.
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