Background: Postoperative transarterial chemoembolization (PA-TACE) is an effective adjuvant therapy for preventing early postoperative recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); however, many patients are insensitive to it. Therefore, the present study aimed to explore the in-depth reasons for PA-TACE resistance and provide a reliable basis for selecting patients who will benefit the most from PA-TACE.

Methods: The unique gene expression profiles of primary tumors from PA-TACE-sensitive or -insensitive patients were analyzed using microarray data. Combined differential expression analysis, gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA), and weighted correlation network analysis (WGCNA) were used to screen for potential drivers of PA-TACE insensitivity. The expression of ALDOB was silenced or overexpressed in hepatoma cell lines, and changes in glycolytic activity, cycle, apoptosis, and malignant biological phenotypes were observed under normoxia and hypoxia. Finally, an animal model was constructed to verify the effects of ALDOB dysregulation on the tumorigenic ability of HCC cells in vivo.

Results: The inhibition of ALDOB promoted the up-regulation of Ki67 expression, and glycolytic activity was significantly enhanced. Moreover, the proliferation, invasion, and migration capabilities were increased in HCC cells and even worse in hypoxia. This advantage of malignant behavior was also validated using in vivo models.

Conclusion: Down-regulation of ALDOB may underlie the metabolic reprogramming observed in HCC by promoting the malignant behavior of HCC cells. Hypoxia and ALDOB down-regulation acted additively, which was closely related to PA-TACE insensitivity. The use of ALDOB and Ki67 as a combined marker has the potential to identify the ‘PA-TACE beneficiary population’.

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