Leptin receptor somatic mutations are frequent in HCV-infected cirrhotic liver and associated with hepatocellular carcinoma.

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[Background & Aims]Hepatocellular carcinoma develops in patients with chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis via a stepwise accumulation of various genetic alterations. To explore the genetic basis of development of hepatocellular carcinoma in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-associated chronic liver disease, we evaluated genetic variants that accumulate in nontumor cirrhotic liver. [Methods]We determined the whole exome sequences of 7 tumors and background cirrhotic liver tissues from 4 patients with HCV infection. We then performed additional sequencing of selected exomes of mutated genes, identified by whole exome sequencing, and of representative tumor-related genes on samples from 22 cirrhotic livers with HCV infection. We performed in vitro and in vivo functional studies for one of the mutated genes. [Results]Whole exome sequencing showed that somatic mutations accumulated in various genes in HCV-infected cirrhotic liver tissues. Among the identified genes, the leptin receptor gene (LEPR) was one of the most frequently mutated in tumor and nontumor cirrhotic liver tissue. Selected exome sequencing analyses detected LEPR mutations in 12 of 22 (54.5%) nontumorous cirrhotic livers. In vitro, 4 of 7 (57.1%) LEPRmutations found in cirrhotic livers reduced phosphorylation of STAT3 to inactivate LEPR-mediated signaling. Moreover, 40% of Lepr-deficient (C57BL/KsJ-db/db) mice developed liver tumors after administration of thioacetamide compared with none of the control mice. [Conclusions]Based on analysis of liver tissue samples from patients, somatic mutations accumulate in LEPR in cirrhotic liver with chronic HCV infection. These mutations could disrupt LEPR signaling and increase susceptibility to hepatocarcinogenesis.



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