A systematic investigation based on microRNA-mediated gene regulatory network reveals that dysregulation of microRNA-19a/Cyclin D1 axis confers an oncogenic potential and a worse prognosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma

<div><p>MicroRNAs (miRNAs) contribute to a wide variety of human diseases by regulating gene expression, leading to imbalances in gene regulatory networks. To discover novel hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)-related miRNA-target axes and to elucidate their functions, we here performed a systematic investigation combining biological data acquisition and integration, miRNA-target prediction, network construction, functional assay and clinical validation. As a result, a total of 117 HCC differentially expressed miRNAs were identified, and 728 high confident target genes of these miRNAs were collected. Then, the interaction network of target genes was constructed and 221 key nodes with topological importance in the network were identified according to their topological features including degree, node-betweenness, closeness and K-coreness. Among these key nodes, Cyclin D1 had the highest node-betweenness, implying its bottleneck role in the network. Luciferase reporter assay confirmed that miRNA-19a, which was one of HCC downregulated miRNAs, directly targeted Cyclin D1 in HCC cells. Moreover, miR-19a might play inhibitory roles in HCC malignancy via regulating Cyclin D1 expression. Further clinical evidence also highlighted the prognostic potential of miR-19a/Cyclin D1 axis in HCC. In conclusion, this systematic investigation provides a framework to identify featured miRNAs and their target genes which are potent effectors in the occurrence and development of HCC. More importantly, miR-19a/Cyclin D1 axis might have promising applications as a therapeutic target and a prognostic marker for patients with HCC.</p></div>