Hepatitis B and Alterations of the p53 Tumor Suppressor Gene in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

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In areas of the world where hepatitis B and aflatoxin ingestion are common, alterations of the p53 tumor suppressor gene have frequently been reported in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In particular, G-to-T transversions at codon 249 of the p53 gene have been consistently observed in hepatocellular carcinomas in China and sub- Saharan Africa. The goal of this study was to determine the frequency and relationship of p53 gene alterations and hepatitis B in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded HCCs resected in the United States. Since immunoreactivity for p53 correlates closely with the presence of missense mutations in the p53 gene, we performed immunohistochemical staining with the monoclonal antibody PAbl801. Only seven of 37 cases (19%) demonstrated nuclear accumulation of p53 gene product, in contrast to 10 of 20 cases (50%) of colon carcinoma metastatic to the liver. Staining was not observed in seven liver cell adenomas, 10 cases of focal nodular hyperplasia, or eight cases of cirrhosis. DNA was extracted from formalin-fixed paraffin sections for additional analysis with use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). G-to-T transversions of the third nucleotide of codon 249 were demonstrated in only four of 37 cases (11%), three of which had stained with PAbl801. Of 13 patients for whom there was information about a restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) for BstUl within the fourth exon of the p53 gene, allelic loss of p53 was demonstrated in only two cases (15%), both of which stained with PAbl801. Because of previous reports specifically associating hepatitis B with p53 mutations in HCC, we performed nested PCR for hepatitis B virus DNA. Five of 37 cases (14%) contained hepatitis B virus DNA, two of which stained diffusely for p53 and three of which had codon 249 mutations. Our findings indicate that alterations in the p53 gene, particularly at codon 249, are uncommon in HCCs in the United States, and when present are associated with hepatitis B. Since hepatitis B is infrequently associated with HCC in our patient population, the role of p53 alterations in hepatocellular carcinogenesis may not be as significant as in other parts of the world where hepatitis B and aflatoxin are more prevalent

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