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This article is the author’s final published version in Oncotarget, Volume 11, Issue 23, June 2020, Pages 2226-2242.

The published version is available at Copyright © Sayeed et al.


The human circulation contains cell-free DNA and non-coding microRNA (miRNA). Less is known about the presence of messenger RNA (mRNA). This report profiles the human circulating mRNA transcriptome in people with liver cirrhosis (LC) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) to determine whether mRNA analytes can be used as biomarkers of liver disease. Using RNAseq and RT-qPCR, we investigate circulating mRNA in plasma from HCC and LC patients and demonstrate detection of transcripts representing more than 19,000 different protein coding genes. Remarkably, the circulating mRNA expression levels were similar from person to person over the 21 individuals whose samples were analyzed by RNAseq. Liver derived circulating transcripts such as albumin (ALB), apolipoprotein (APO) A1, A2 & H, serpin A1 & E1, ferritin light chain (FTL) and fibrinogen like 1 (FGL1) were significantly upregulated in HCC patient samples. Higher levels of some of these liver-specific transcripts in the plasma of HCC patients were confirmed by RT-qPCR in another cohort of 20 individuals. Several less abundant circulating transcripts associated with cancer were detected in most HCC samples, but not in healthy subjects. Liver specificity of circulating transcripts was confirmed by investigating their expression in HCC tumor and liver cancer cell lines. Liver specific mRNA sequences in the plasma were predominantly present outside circulating extracellular vesicles. Conclusions: The circulating “mRNA” transcriptome is remarkably consistent in diversity and expression from person to person. Detection of transcripts corresponding to disease selective polypeptides suggests the possibility that circulating mRNA can work as a biomarker analyte for cancer detection.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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