Circular RNA Sequencing Identifies CircASAP1 as a Key Regulator in Hepatocellular Carcinoma Metastasis

Background and Aims

There is growing evidence that single?stranded, circular RNA (circRNA) plays a key role in the development of certain cancers, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). It is less clear, however, what role circRNA plays in HCC metastasis.

Approach and Results

In this study, through circRNA sequencing, we identified a circRNA: circASAP1 (a circRNA derived from exons 2 and 3 of the ASAP1 gene, hsa_circ_0085616), which is associated with pulmonary metastasis after curative resection in patients with HCC. CircASAP1 was overexpressed in HCC cell lines with high metastatic potential and in metastatic HCCs. In vitro, circASAP1 promoted cell proliferation, colony formation, migration, and invasion, and in vivo, it enhanced tumor growth and pulmonary metastasis. Mechanism studies showed that circASAP1 acts as a competing endogenous RNA for microRNA 326 (miR?326) and microRNA 532?5p (miR?532?5p), both of which are tumor suppressors in HCC. We found that mitogen?activated protein kinase (MAPK) 1 and colony stimulating factor (CSF)?1 were direct common targets for microRNA 326 (miR?326) and microRNA 532?5p (miR?532?5p), which were regulated by circASAP1. CircASAP1 promotes HCC cell proliferation and invasion by regulating miR?326/miR?532?5p?MAPK1 signaling and, furthermore, mediates tumor?associated macrophage infiltration by regulating the miR?326/miR?532?5p?CSF?1 pathway. Clinical HCC samples exhibited a positive correlation between circASAP1 expression and levels of CSF?1, MAPK1, and CD68+ tumor?associated macrophages, all of which were predictive of patient outcomes.


We identified circASAP1 as a key regulator of HCC metastasis that acts on miR?326/miR?532?5p?MAPK1/CSF?1 signaling and serves as a prognostic predictor in patients with HCC.