Changes in microRNA expression during disease progression in patients with chronic viral hepatitis

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Background & Aims:

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been involved in hepatocarcinogenesis, but little is known on their role in the progression of chronic viral hepatitis. Aim of this study was to identify miRNA signatures associated with stages of disease progression in patients with chronic viral hepatitis.


MiRNA expression profile was investigated in liver biopsies from patients with chronic viral hepatitis and correlated with clinical, virological and histopathological features. Relevant miRNAs were further investigated.


Most of the significant changes in miRNA expression were associated with liver fibrosis stages and included the significant up-regulation of a group of miRNAs that were demonstrated to target the master regulators of epithelial–mesenchymal transition ZEB1 and ZEB2 and involved in the preservation of epithelial cell differentiation, but also in cell proliferation and fibrogenesis. In agreement with miRNA data, immunostaining of liver biopsies showed that expression of the epithelial marker E-cadherin was maintained in severe fibrosis/cirrhosis while expression of ZEBs and other markers of epithelial–mesenchymal transition were low or absent. Severe liver fibrosis was also significantly associated with the down-regulation of miRNAs with antiproliferative and tumour suppressor activity. Similar changes in miRNA and target gene expression were demonstrated along with disease progression in a mouse model of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced liver fibrosis, suggesting that they might represent a general response to liver injury.


Chronic viral hepatitis progression is associated with the activation of miRNA pathways that promote cell proliferation and fibrogenesis, but preserve the differentiated hepatocyte phenotype.

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