BMC cancer

Circulating tumor cells in hepatocellular carcinoma: a pilot study of detection, enumeration, and next-generation sequencing in cases and controls.

PMID 25884197


Circulating biomarkers are urgently needed in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The aims of this study were to determine the feasibility of detecting and isolating circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in HCC patients using enrichment for epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) expression, to examine their prognostic value, and to explore CTC-based DNA sequencing in metastatic HCC patients compared to a control cohort with non-malignant liver diseases (NMLD). Whole blood was obtained from patients with metastatic HCC or NMLD. CTCs were enumerated by CellSearch then purified by immunomagnetic EpCAM enrichment and fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Targeted ion semiconductor sequencing was performed on whole genome-amplified DNA from CTCs, tumor specimens, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) when available. Twenty HCC and 10 NMLD patients enrolled. CTCs ≥ 2/7.5xa0mL were detected in 7/20 (35%, 95% confidence interval: 12%, 60%) HCC and 0/9 eligible NMLD (p = 0.04). CTCs ≥ 1/7.5xa0mL was associated with alpha-fetoprotein ≥ 400xa0ng/mL (p = 0.008) and vascular invasion (p = 0.009). Sequencing of CTC DNA identified characteristic HCC mutations. The proportion with ≥ 100x coverage depth was lower in CTCs (43%) than tumor or PBMC (87%) (p < 0.025). Low frequency variants were higher in CTCs (p < 0.001). CTCs are detectable by EpCAM enrichment in metastatic HCC, without confounding false positive background from NMLD. CTC detection was associated with poor prognostic factors. Sequencing of CTC DNA identified known HCC mutations but more low-frequency variants and lower coverage depth than FFPE or PBMC.

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