Studies have shown that alterations of epigenetics and microRNA (miRNA) play critical roles in the initiation and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes in HCC is generally mediated by DNA hypermethylation of CpG island promoters and histone modifications such as histone deacetylation, methylation of histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) and tri-methylation of H3K27. Chromatin-modifying drugs such as DNA methylation inhibitors and histone deacetylase inhibitors have shown clinical promise for cancer therapy. miRNA are small non-coding RNA that regulate expression of various target genes. Specific miRNA are aberrantly expressed and play roles as tumor suppressors or oncogenes during hepatocarcinogenesis. We and other groups have demonstrated that important tumor suppressor miRNA are silenced by epigenetic alterations, resulting in activation of target oncogenes in human malignancies including HCC. Restoring the expression of tumor suppressor miRNA by inhibitors of DNA methylation and histone deacetylase may be a promising therapeutic strategy for HCC.
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