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DNA replication stress stratifies prognosis and enables exploitable therapeutic vulnerabilities of HBV-associated hepatocellular carcinoma: an in silico strategy towards precision oncology

By Xiaofan Lu, Jialin Meng, Yujie Zhou, Haitao Wang, Xinjia Ruan, Yi Chen, Yuqing Ye, Liwen Su, Xiaole Fan, Hangyu Yan, Liyun Jiang, Fangrong Yan

Posted 06 Sep 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.09.04.458962

Background: Hepatitis B virus (HBV), the main risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development, integrates into the host genome, causing genetic instability, which may trigger malignancies to exhibit chronic DNA replication stress, providing exploitable therapeutic vulnerabilities. Therefore, customizing prognostication approach and expanding therapeutic options are of great clinical significance to HBV-associated HCCs. Methods: A robust machine-learning framework was designed to develop a DNA replication stress-related prognostic index (PIRS) based on 606 retrospectively collected HBV-associated HCC cases. Molecular profiles and drug response of HCC cell lines were leveraged to predict therapeutic targets and agents for patients with high mortality risk. Results: Compared with established population-based predictors, PIRS manifested superior performance for prognostic prediction in HBV-associated HCCs. Lower PIRS tightly associated with higher expression of HBV oncoproteins, activated immune/metabolism pathways and higher likelihood of responding to immunotherapy; while higher PIRS showed co-occurrence manner with elevated Ki-67 progression marker and cancer stemness, and significantly enriched in DNA replication stress, cell cycle pathways, chromatin remodeling regulons, and presented an immune-cold phenotype with unfavorable clinical outcome. Through large-scale in silico drug screening, four potential therapeutic targets (TOP2A, PRMT1, CSNK1D, and PPIH) and five agents including three topoisomerase inhibitors (teniposide, doxorubicin, and epirubicin) and two CDK inhibitors (JNJ-7706621 and PHA-793887) were identified for patients with high PIRS. Conclusions: Overall, PIRS holds potential to improve the population-based therapeutic strategies in HCC and sheds new insight to the clinical management for those HBV carriers; current analytic framework provides a roadmap for the rational clinical development of personalized treatment.

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