Objectives: The aim of this study was to explore the expression of Galectin-9 in hepatitis B virus (HBV)-associated hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), evaluate its clinicopathological significance, and investigate whether Galecin-9 expression has prognostic value in HBV-associated HCC.

Methods: Immunohistochemistry staining was performed to examine the expression of Galectin-9 in paraffin-embedded tissues from 140 cases of HBV-associated HCC specimens. The association between Gal-9 expression, clinicopathological features and prognosis was analyzed by Kaplan-Meier method, log-rank test and Cox regression analysis. Dual immunofluorescence (IF) staining was performed to identify the cell types that have positive Gal-9 expression.

Results: Among the 140 cases of HBV-associated HCC, 39 (27.9%) cases showed high Gal-9 expression (score≥6), 21 (15%) cases showed moderate Gal-9 expression (6>score≥3), 33 (23.6%) cases showed weak Gal-9 expression (3>score>0), and 47 (33.6%) cases had no detectable Gal-9 expression (score=0). Positive Gal-9 expression (score>0) was associated with lymph node metastasis (P=0.029), Ki-67 proliferation index (P=0.009) and poor prognosis. Univariate and multivariate analyses showed that Gal-9 expression could be used as an independent prognostic marker for HBV-associated HCC. Dual IF staining indicated that Gal-9 was mainly expressed in CD68+CD163+ Kupffer cells (KCs) in HBV-associated HCC.

Conclusions: Gal-9 was specifically expressed in certain HBV-associated HCC. Positive Gal-9 expression was significantly associated with poor prognosis, and Gal-9 could be used as a prognostic marker in HBV-associated HCC. Specific expression of Gal-9 on KCs indicated it may have immunosuppressive function in HBV-associated HCC.