PloS one

Clinical classification of cancer cachexia: phenotypic correlates in human skeletal muscle.

PMID 24404136


Cachexia affects the majority of patients with advanced cancer and is associated with a reduction in treatment tolerance, response to therapy, and duration of survival. One impediment towards the effective treatment of cachexia is a validated classification system. 41 patients with resectable upper gastrointestinal (GI) or pancreatic cancer underwent characterisation for cachexia based on weight-loss (WL) and/or low muscularity (LM). Four diagnostic criteria were used >5%WL, >10%WL, LM, and LM+>2%WL. All patients underwent biopsy of the rectus muscle. Analysis included immunohistochemistry for fibre size and type, protein and nucleic acid concentration, Western blots for markers of autophagy, SMAD signalling, and inflammation. Compared with non-cachectic cancer patients, patients with LM or LM+>2%WL, mean muscle fibre diameter was reduced by about 25% (p = 0.02 and p = 0.001 respectively). No significant difference in fibre diameter was observed if patients had WL alone. Regardless of classification, there was no difference in fibre number or proportion of fibre type across all myosin heavy chain isoforms. Mean muscle protein content was reduced and the ratio of RNA/DNA decreased in patients with either >5%WL or LM+>2%WL. Compared with non-cachectic patients, SMAD3 protein levels were increased in patients with >5%WL (p = 0.022) and with >10%WL, beclin (p = 0.05) and ATG5 (p = 0.01) protein levels were increased. There were no differences in phospho-NFkB or phospho-STAT3 levels across any of the groups. Muscle fibre size, biochemical composition and pathway phenotype can vary according to whether the diagnostic criteria for cachexia are based on weight loss alone, a measure of low muscularity alone or a combination of the two. For intervention trials where the primary end-point is a change in muscle mass or function, use of combined diagnostic criteria may allow identification of a more homogeneous patient cohort, reduce the sample size required and enhance the time scale within which trials can be conducted.