BackgroundNeuromedin U (NMU) is a neuropeptide belonging to the neuromedin family. Recently, significant associations between NMU and several cancers have been reported. However, no studies have examined the association between NMU and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The purpose of this study was to examine the role of NMU in HCC.MethodsAn enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to measure the level of NMU protein in the sera of patients with hepatic hemangioma and HCC. NMU and cytokine mRNA expression was assessed in HCC samples via RT-qPCR. A tissue microarray consisting of 228 HCC peri- and intra-tumor tissues was used to detect NMU expression via immunohistochemical analysis. The association between NMU expression and overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS) was analyzed by Kaplan-Meier curves, the log-rank test, and Cox proportional hazard model.ResultsThe level of NMU protein was increased in the sera of HCC patients (p = 0.006). NMU was expressed in intercellular space, rather than in hepatocytes or HCC cells. The prognosis of HCC patients with high NMU expression in peri-tumor tissue was significantly poorer than that of patients with low NMU expression (OS: p = 0.002, DFS: p = 0.033). Peri-tumor NMU expression was also a significant independent prognostic factor for OS (hazard ratio: 1.541, 95% confidence interval: 1.092–2.175, p = 0.014). The level of NMU expression was positively associated with M2 macrophage percentage and the levels of type-2 inflammatory cytokines in HCC tissue.ConclusionsNMU may serve as a novel prognostic biomarker for HCC patients, although further validation is needed in the future. The activation of M2 macrophages and a type-2 inflammatory response may involve in the role of NMU in patients with HCC.