Open Access

Integrated bioinformatics analyses of key genes involved in hepatocellular carcinoma immunosuppression

  • Authors:
    • Hongyan Huang
    • Youwen Hu
    • Li Guo
    • Zhili Wen
  • View Affiliations

  • Published online on: October 13, 2021
  • Article Number: 830
  • Copyright: © Huang et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a typical inflammation‑driven cancer. Chronically unresolved inflammation may remodel the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment, which is rich in innate immune cells. The mechanisms via which HCC progresses through the evasion of the innate immune surveillance remain unclear. The present study thus aimed to identify key genes involved in HCC immunosuppression and to establish an innate immune risk signature, with the ultimate goal of obtaining new insight into effective immunotherapies. HCC and normal liver tissue mRNA expression and clinicopathological data were obtained from the Cancer Genome Atlas database. The immunosuppressive innate immune‑related genes (IIRGs) in HCC were screened using integrated bioinformatics analyses. Gene expression was then validated using the Gene Expression Omnibus database and the Human Protein Atlas database, and tissues were obtained from patients with HCC who underwent surgery. In total, 3,676 genes were identified as differentially expressed mRNAs after comparing the HCC tissues with the normal liver tissues in TCGA. Gene Set Enrichment Analyses revealed 21 highly expressed IIRGs in HCC tissues. A survival analysis and Cox regression model were used to construct an innate immune risk signature, including three IIRGs: Collectin‑12 (COLEC12), matrix metalloproteinase‑12 (MMP12) and mucin‑12 (MUC12) genes. Univariate and multivariate Cox analyses revealed that the signature of the three IIRGs was a robust independent risk factor in relation to the overall survival (OS) of patients with HCC. The expression of the three aforementioned IIRGs was confirmed through external validation. Moreover, COLEC12 and MMP12 expression significantly correlated with that of immune checkpoint molecules or immunosuppressive cytokines. The tumor immune dysfunction and exclusion tool predicted that the increased expression of the three IIRGs in patients with HCC was significantly associated with the efficacy of relatively poor immune checkpoint blockade therapy. Conclusively, a novel innate immune‑related risk signature for patients with HCC was constructed and validated. This signature may be involved in immunosuppression, and may be used to predict a poor prognosis, functioning as a potential immunotherapeutic target for patients with HCC.
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