Abstract: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the deadliest cancers. Research on HCC so far primarily focused on genes and provided limited information on genomic repeats, which constitute more than half of the human genome and contribute to genomic stability. In line with this, repeat dysregulation was significantly shown to be pathological in various cancers and other diseases. In this study, we aimed to determine the full repeat expression profile of HCC for the first time. We utilised two independent RNA-seq datasets obtained from primary HCC tumours with matched normal tissues of 20 and 17 HCC patients, respectively. We quantified repeat expressions and analysed their differential expression. We also identified repeats that are cooperatively expressed with genes by constructing a gene coexpression network. Our results indicated that HCC tumours in both datasets harbour 24 differentially expressed repeats and even more elements were coexpressed with genes involved in various metabolic pathways. We discovered that two L1 elements (L1M3b, L1M3de) were downregulated and a handful of HERV subfamily repeats (HERV-Fc1-int, HERV3-int, HERVE_a-int, HERVK11D-int, HERVK14C-int, HERVL18-int) were upregulated with the exception of HERV1_LTRc, which was downregulated. Various LTR elements (LTR32, LTR9, LTR4, LTR52-int, LTR70) and MER elements (MER11C, MER11D, MER57C1, MER9a1, MER74C) were implicated along with few other subtypes including Charlie12, MLT2A2, Tigger15a, Tigger 17b. The only satellite repeat differentially expressed in both datasets was GSATII, whose expression was upregulated in 33 (>90%) out of 37 patients. Notably, GSATII expression correlated with HCC survival genes. Elements discovered here promise future studies to be considered for biomarker and HCC therapy research. The coexpression patterns GSATII satellite with HCC survival genes and the fact that it has been upregulated in the vast majority of patients make this repeat particularly stand out for HCC.

Keywords: Liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, satellite RNA, transposable elements, retroelements, RNA sequencing

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