A previous study reported that histone methyltransferase SETD3 is up-regulated in tumor tissues of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and is associated with the growth of HCC. However, the clinical significance and the effect of SETD3 on HCC metastasis remain unclear. In the present study, both the protein and mRNA expression levels of SETD3 were measured in a larger cohort of HCC patients. The results showed that the protein level of SETD3 in HCC tissues was significantly higher than that in non-tumorous tissues, which was inconsistent with the mRNA expression level of SETD3. The high protein level of SETD3 in HCC tissues was significantly associated with male gender, poor pathological differentiation, liver cirrhosis and unfavorable prognosis of HCC patients. Subsequently, we demonstrated that SETD3 could be regulated at post-transcriptional step by a couple of miRNAs (miR-16, miR-195 and miR-497). Additionally, in vitro and in vivo experiments revealed that SETD3 played opposing roles in proliferation and metastasis of HCC: promoting proliferation but inhibiting metastasis. Mechanistic experiments revealed that doublecortin-like kinase 1 (DCLK1) was a downstream target of SETD3. SETD3 could increase the DNA methylation level of DCLK1 promoter to inhibit the transcription of DCLK1. Further study revealed that DCLK1/PI3K/matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) 2 (MMP-2) was an important pathway that mediated the effect of SETD3 on HCC metastasis. In conclusion, the present study revealed that SETD3 is associated with tumorigenesis and is a promising biomarker for predicting the prognosis of HCC patients after surgical resection. In addition, SETD3 plays inhibitory role in HCC metastasis partly through DCLK1/PI3K/MMP-2 pathway.

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