Using comparative glycoproteomics, we have previously identified a glycoprotein that is altered in both amount and glycosylation as a function of liver cirrhosis. The altered glycoprotein is an agalactosylated (G0) immunoglobulin G molecule (IgG) that recognizes the heterophilic alpha-gal epitope. Since the alpha gal epitope is found on gut enterobacteria, it has been hypothesized that anti-gal antibodies are generated as a result of increased bacterial exposure in patients with liver disease.
Changes in glycosylation, most notably fucosylation, have been associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In this report, the levels of fucosylated kininogen (Fc-Kin) and fucosylated alpha-1-antitrypsin were analyzed individually and in combination with the currently used marker, alpha-fetoprotein, and a previously identified biomarker, Golgi protein 73 (GP73), for the ability to distinguish between a diagnosis of cirrhosis and HCC. This analysis was done on serum from 113 patients with cirrhosis and 164 serum samples from patients with cirrhosis plus HCC. The levels of Fc-Kin and fucosylated alpha-1-antitrypsin were significantly higher in patients with HCC compared with those with cirrhosis (P < 0.0001). Greatest performance was achieved through the combination of Fc-Kin, alpha-fetoprotein, and GP73, giving an optimal sensitivity of 95%, a specificity of 70%, and an area under the receiver operating characteristic of 0.94. In conclusion, the altered glycosylation of serum glycoproteins can act as potential biomarkers of primary HCC when used independently or in combination with other markers of HCC.
Changes in N-linked glycosylation are known to occur during the development of cancer. For example, we have previously reported changes in N-linked glycosylation that occur with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and, through the use of glycoproteomics, identified many of those proteins containing altered glycan structures. To advance these studies and further explore the glycoproteome, we performed N-linked glycan analysis from serum samples depleted of the major acute phase proteins, followed by targeted lectin extraction of those proteins containing changes in glycosylation. Using this method, changes in glycosylation, specifically increased amounts of core and outer arm fucosylation, were observed in the depleted samples. The identities of those proteins containing core and outer arm fucose were identified in the serum of patients with HCC. The usefulness of some of these proteins in the diagnosis of HCC was determined through the analysis of over 300 patient samples using a high-throughput plate based approach. Greatest performance was achieved with fucosylated hemopexin, which had an AUROC of 0.9515 with an optimal sensitivity of 92% and a specificity of 92%.
The Golgi phosphoprotein GP73 is elevated in the circulation of individuals with a diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma. Its usefulness as a biomarker of HCC is questioned, since it has also been reported to be elevated in the circulation of people with liver cirrhosis. Regulation of GP73 by inflammatory cytokines is therefore of interest. The interleukin-6 (IL-6) family cytokines were tested for effects on GP73 mRNA and/or protein levels in human hepatoblastoma HepG2 cells. Levels of GP73 mRNA and protein were up-regulated in HepG2 cells following treatment with either proinflammatory cytokine IL-6 or the related cytokine oncostatin M (OSM). Induction required the shared receptor subunit gp130, and correlated with increased tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT3. Maximal cytokine-mediated induction was not observed in the presence of protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide, suggesting additional regulatory factors play an important role. ELISA measurement of GP73 and IL-6 levels in the sera of patients with pre-malignant liver disease revealed a significant correlation between circulating levels of the two proteins. Similarly, a sensitive ELISA assay was developed to measure circulating OSM. OSM levels were elevated 6-7 fold in sera from patients with either cirrhosis or HCC relative to controls without liver disease. Although there was an association between levels of GP73 and OSM in serum from people with liver cirrhosis, there was not a statistically significant correlation in HCC, suggesting that the role of the cytokines in determining circulating levels may be complex. To our knowledge, this is the first report of OSM elevation being associated with liver disease.
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