Low EGF in myeloablative allotransplantation: association with severe acute GvHD in BMT CTN 0402
Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is a recently described biomarker of acute GvHD (aGvHD). Whether low plasma EGF prior to hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) predisposes to the development of aGvHD, or whether EGF levels fall because of severe aGvHD, is unknown. To evaluate this, we tested plasma samples collected at pre-HCT baseline, day +28 and day +100 during the course of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network (BMT CTN) 0402. We found that baseline EGF plasma concentrations were three-fold lower in HCT recipients compared to donors (24.3 vs 76.0 pg/mL, P < 0.01). Ninety-one patients (43%) had a markedly low plasma EGF at pre-HCT baseline, defined as < 2.7 pg/mL—an optimal cutpoint associated with development of grade III-IV aGvHD. Patients with these low EGF levels at pre-HCT baseline had a 2.9-fold increased risk of grade III-IV aGvHD by day +100. Patients with low EGF at day +28 after HCT had an increased risk of death (relative risk 2.3, P = 0.02) by 1 year due to transplant-related toxicities, especially aGvHD. Our results suggest that very low plasma EGF early in the HCT process may predispose patients to an increased risk of death, potentially due to epithelial damage and limited repair capacity.