Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), with discouraging morbidity and mortality, ranks as one of the most prevalent tumors worldwide. Pyrimidine metabolism is a critical process that regulates DNA and RNA synthesis in cells. It is imperative to investigate the significance of pyrimidine metabolism in liver cancer.

Methods: Transcriptome and clinical data were downloaded from the TCGA database and the GEO database. The genes related to pyrimidine metabolism were sourced from the MSigDB. The pyrimidine metabolism-related signature (PMRS) was constructed through Cox regression and Lasso regression and then verified in the external validation set from the ICGC database. Functional enrichment, immune infiltration analysis, drug sensitivity, and Immunophenoscore (IPS) were further implemented to predict the response to immunotherapy. The role of PMRS in the malignant phenotype of hepatocellular carcinoma was explored by conducting a series of in vitro experiments.

Results: Our study developed a four-genes PMRS which demonstrates a substantial correlation with the prognosis of HCC patients, serving as an independent predictor in clinical practice. The result of risk-stratified analysis yielded evidence that low-risk patients experienced more favorable clinical outcomes. The nomogram exhibited remarkable prognostic predictive value. The subsequent results revealed that low-risk patients manifested a more promising response to immunotherapy. Moreover, the results of cell experiments demonstrated that the downregulation of DCK markedly inhibited the malignant phenotype of hepatocellular carcinoma.

Conclusions: Our pyrimidine metabolism-centered prognostic signature accurately predicts overall survival, immune status, and treatment response in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients, offering innovative insights for precise diagnosis, personalized treatment, and improved prognosis.