Cancer is a genetic disease with frequent somatic DNA alterations. Studying recurrent copy number aberrations (CNAs) in human cancers would enable the elucidation of disease mechanisms and the prioritization of candidate oncogenic drivers with causal roles in oncogenesis. We have comprehensively and systematically characterized CNAs and the accompanying gene expression changes in tumors and matched nontumor liver tissues from 286 hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. Our analysis identified 29 recurrently amplified and 22 recurrently deleted regions with a high level of copy number changes. These regions harbor established oncogenes and tumor suppressors, including CCND1 (cyclin D1), MET (hepatocyte growth factor receptor), CDKN2A (cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A) and CDKN2B (cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2B), as well as many other genes not previously reported to be involved in liver carcinogenesis. Pathway analysis of cis-acting genes in the amplification and deletion peaks implicates alterations of core cancer pathways, including cell-cycle, p53 signaling, phosphoinositide 3-kinase signaling, mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling, Wnt signaling, and transforming growth factor beta signaling, in a large proportion of HCC patients. We further credentialed two candidate driver genes (BCL9 and MTDH) from the recurrent focal amplification peaks and showed that they play a significant role in HCC growth and survival.
We have demonstrated that characterizing the CNA landscape in HCC will facilitate the understanding of disease mechanisms and the identification of oncogenic drivers that may serve as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of this devastating disease.