Protein expression profiling of vascular endothelial growth factor and its receptors identifies subclasses of hepatocellular carcinoma and predicts survival

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To examine expression profile and prognostic significance of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its receptors in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and peritumoral tissue.


Expression of VEGF-A, VEGF-C, and VEGF receptor 1(VEGFR-1), VEGFR-2, and VEGFR-3 in tumor and peritumoral liver tissue was studied by immunohistochemistry in a tissue microarray from 107 patients with HCC. Unsupervised hierarchical cluster analyses were conducted to identify relevant clusters.


Staining of VEGF-A, VEGF-C, VEGFR-2, and VEGFR-3 was mostly found on the tumor cells and peritumoral hepatocytes, but VEGFR-1 was mostly expressed in stromal cells. In most of the cases, the expression of VEGF-A, VEGFR-1, VEGFR-2, and VEGFR-3 in was higher in peritumoral liver tissue, while VEGF-C expression was higher in tumor. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering analysis identified four prognostically different clusters, of which cluster A was classified into the “poor prognosis group,” and the other three clusters were classified into the “good prognosis group” (P = 0.047). Further analysis with a set of seven markers reproduced the same four cluster groups with significantly different recurrence free probability (RFP) (P = 0.018), and the low RFP group was associated with more intrahepatic satellite lesions. Multivariate analysis showed that classification defined by seven biomarkers was of prognostic significance (P = 0.000).


Expression of VEGF and its receptors was higher in peritumoral tissue than in tumor in HCC. Seven biomarkers predicted patients' RFP, which consisted of tumoral expression of VEGF-A, VEGFR-1, and VEGF-C as well as peritumoral expression of VEGF-A, VEGFR-1, VEGFR-2, and VEGFR-3.

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