Comparative RNA-Seq transcriptome analyses reveal dynamic time-dependent effects of 56Fe, 16O, and 28Si irradiation on the induction of murine hepatocellular carcinoma

Anna M. Nia, Kamil Khanipov, Brooke L. Barnette, Robert L. Ullrich, George Golovko, Mark R. Emmett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: One of the health risks posed to astronauts during deep space flights is exposure to high charge, high-energy (HZE) ions (Z > 13), which can lead to the induction of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, little is known on the molecular mechanisms of HZE irradiation-induced HCC. Results: We performed comparative RNA-Seq transcriptomic analyses to assess the carcinogenic effects of 600 MeV/n 56Fe (0.2 Gy), 1 GeV/n 16O (0.2 Gy), and 350 MeV/n 28Si (0.2 Gy) ions in a mouse model for irradiation-induced HCC. C3H/HeNCrl mice were subjected to total body irradiation to simulate space environment HZE-irradiation, and liver tissues were extracted at five different time points post-irradiation to investigate the time-dependent carcinogenic response at the transcriptomic level. Our data demonstrated a clear difference in the biological effects of these HZE ions, particularly immunological, such as Acute Phase Response Signaling, B Cell Receptor Signaling, IL-8 Signaling, and ROS Production in Macrophages. Also seen in this study were novel unannotated transcripts that were significantly affected by HZE. To investigate the biological functions of these novel transcripts, we used a machine learning technique known as self-organizing maps (SOMs) to characterize the transcriptome expression profiles of 60 samples (45 HZE-irradiated, 15 non-irradiated control) from liver tissues. A handful of localized modules in the maps emerged as groups of co-regulated and co-expressed transcripts. The functional context of these modules was discovered using overrepresentation analysis. We found that these spots typically contained enriched populations of transcripts related to specific immunological molecular processes (e.g., Acute Phase Response Signaling, B Cell Receptor Signaling, IL-3 Signaling), and RNA Transcription/Expression. Conclusions: A large number of transcripts were found differentially expressed post-HZE irradiation. These results provide valuable information for uncovering the differences in molecular mechanisms underlying HZE specific induced HCC carcinogenesis. Additionally, a handful of novel differentially expressed unannotated transcripts were discovered for each HZE ion. Taken together, these findings may provide a better understanding of biological mechanisms underlying risks for HCC after HZE irradiation and may also have important implications for the discovery of potential countermeasures against and identification of biomarkers for HZE-induced HCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number453
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Carcinogenesis
  • Novel transcripts
  • RNA-Sequencing
  • Self-organizing maps
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


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