Abstract

In this study, we analyzed the expression and clinical significance of apyrimidinic endodeoxyribonuclease 1 (APEX1) in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The APEX1 mRNA and protein levels were significantly higher in HCC than adjacent normal liver tissues in multiple datasets from the Oncomine, GEO and TCGA databases. APEX1 levels were significantly higher in early-stage HCC patients with low alpha-fetoprotein expression. The positive predictive value (PPV) for APEX1 was significantly higher than the PPV for alpha-fetoprotein (67.91% vs. 55.22%) in HCC patients. High APEX1 expression correlated with resistance to sorafenib and anti-programmed death 1 (PD-1) therapies in HCC patients, and it associated with poorer overall survival, disease-specific survival, progression-free survival, and relapse-free survival in early- and advanced-stage HCC patients. High APEX1 expression also associated with poor prognosis in non-alcoholic, vascular invasion-negative, and hepatitis virus-negative HCC patients. These data suggest that APEX1 is a better diagnostic and prognostic biomarker than alpha-fetoprotein in HCC. Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) showed that APEX1 expression correlated with the DNA damage repair pathway in HCC tissues. These findings demonstrate that APEX1 is a potential diagnostic and prognostic biomarker in HCC.