BACKGROUND: Detection of cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) remains a diagnostic challenge. We established diagnostic peptide biomarkers in bile and urine based on capillary electrophoresis coupled to mass spectrometry (CE-MS) to detect both local and systemic changes during CCA progression. In a prospective cohort study we recently demonstrated that combined bile and urine proteome analysis could further improve diagnostic accuracy of CCA diagnosis in patients with unknown biliary strictures. As a continuation of these investigations, the aim of the present study was to investigate the pathophysiological mechanisms behind the molecular determinants reflected by bile and urine peptide biomarkers.
METHODS: Protease mapping and gene ontology cluster analysis were performed for the previously defined CE-MS based biomarkers in bile and urine. For that purpose, bile and urine peptide profiles (from samples both collected at the date of endoscopy) were investigated from a representative cohort of patients with benign (n = 76) or CCA-associated (n = 52) biliary strictures (verified during clinical follow-up). This was supplemented with a literature search for the association of the individual biomarkers included in the proteomic patterns with CCA or cancer progression.
RESULTS: For most of the peptide markers, association to CCA has been described in literature. Protease mapping revealed ADAMTS4 activity in cleavage of both bile and urine CCA peptide biomarkers. Furthermore, increased chymase activity in bile points to mast cell activation at the tumor site. Gene ontology cluster analysis indicates cellular response to chemical stimuli and stress response as local and extracellular matrix reorganization by tissue destruction and repair as systemic events. The analysis further supports that the mapped proteases are drivers of local and systemic events.
CONCLUSIONS: The study supports connection of the CCA-associated peptide biomarkers to the molecular pathophysiology and indicates an involvement in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, generation of cancer-associated fibroblasts and activation of residual immune cells. Proteases, extracellular matrix components, inflammatory cytokines, proangiogenic, growth and vasoactive factors released from the tumor microenvironment are drivers of systemic early events during CCA progression.
- Biomolecular pathways