Hepatitis B virus (HBV)-induced hepatitis and carcinogen-induced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are associated with serum androgen concentration. However, how androgen or the androgen receptor (AR) contributes to HBV-induced hepatocarcinogenesis remains unclear. We found that hepatic AR promotes HBV-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in HBV transgenic mice that lack AR only in the liver hepatocytes (HBV-L-AR-/y). HBV-L-AR-/y mice that received a low dose of the carcinogen N′-N′-diethylnitrosamine (DEN) have a lower incidence of HCC and present with smaller tumor sizes, fewer foci formations, and less α-fetoprotein HCC marker than do their wild-type HBV-AR+/y littermates. We found that hepatic AR increases the HBV viral titer by enhancing HBV RNA transcription through direct binding to the androgen response element near the viral core promoter. This activity forms a positive feedback mechanism with cooperation with its downstream target gene HBx protein to promote hepatocarcinogenesis. Administration of a chemical compound that selectively degrades AR, ASC-J9, was able to suppress HCC tumor size in DEN-HBV-AR+/y mice. These results demonstrate that targeting the AR, rather than the androgen, could be developed as a new therapy to battle HBV-induced HCC.
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