To search for genes related to hepatocarcinogenesis, the differential display technique for eukaryotic mRNA was conducted. We have cloned a gene that encodes the CD24 protein from the cDNA library of human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). A single 2.1-kb mRNA was identified in HCC specimens and the HuH-7 HCC cell line but only rarely in small amounts in nontumor livers. In 79 unicentric HCC, CD24 mRNA was overexpressed in 52 cases (66%), found in trace amounts in 11, and not detectable in 16 (20%). In 12 cases of multicentric HCC, CD24 mRNA was overexpressed in 21 (68%) of 31 tumor nodules and was helpful for the determination of tumor clonal origin. There was an increased frequency of CD24 mRNA overexpression in patients younger than 50 years with HCC (86% versus 59%, P < 0.025), in serum hepatitis B surface antigen-positive individuals (74% versus 48%, P < 0.023), in those with an elevated serum α-fetoprotein level (82% versus 56%, P < 0.04), and in HCC with α-fetoprotein mRNA expression (82% versus 56%, P < 0.04). There was a strong correlation of CD24 mRNA overexpression with p53 gene mutation in HCC (91% versus 46%, P < 0.0005) and poorly differentiated HCC (82% versus 53%, P < 0.008). Despite its correlation with p53 mutation, the CD24 mRNA expression did not correlate with tumor size, tumor invasiveness, or patient's prognosis. Thus, the CD24 gene expression appears to be a common event in HCC and may serve as an early but not prognostic biomarker for malignant transformation of hepatocytes.

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This work was supported in part by grants from the National Science Council of the Republic of China (NSC83-0419-B-002-316).

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