Wisplinghoff Medical Laboratories, Cologne, Germany. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Still a challenging medical problem is the non-invasive monitoring of patients with a variety of chronic liver diseases being on risk to develop fibrosis, cirrhosis, and, finally, primary liver cell carcinoma. Previously, we have shown that CTGF/CCN2, a down-stream mediator of TGF-β, in serum might be a promising non-invasive biomarker of fibrosis, which is extended in the following study to cirrhosis and liver cell carcinoma. Healthy individuals (n=56), as well as fibrotic (n=77), cirrhotic (n=17), and HCC-patients (n=72) with chronic hepatitis B (HBV) infection, clinically, biochemically and histopathologically well characterized and classified, were included for the measurements of CTGF-concentrations in serum using a newly developed CTGF-enzyme immunoassay. A statistical significant increase of the mean serum CTGF-concentrations was associated with different stages of fibrosis, ranging from 15.9μg/L (S0), 20.3μg/L (S1/2) to 36.9μg/L (S3/4). The highest CTGF-concentrations were measured in cirrhotic patients (43.6μg/L), compared to healthy subjects (17.7μg/L), followed by a decrease in cirrhotic HCC-patients (38.5μg/L; p=0.001). Of note, HCC patients without underlying cirrhosis (n=8) had CTGF levels (13.5±13.2μg/L) comparable to those in healthy controls. No statistical relation between CTGF levels and parameters of liver injury (e.g. AST, ALT) was noticed, but CTGF levels are correlated negatively with serum albumin levels (p=0.007) and platelet counts (p=0.0032), respectively. The latter was negatively correlated with the stage of fibrosis (p=0.025). In HCC patients, CTGF concentrations decreased with tumor progression and size, with lower levels in TNM stage II (30.5μg/L) and stage III (33.6μg/L) compared to TNM stage I (41.6μg/L). Our data suggest a valuable diagnostic impact of CTGF in serum for the follow-up of patients suffering from chronic liver diseases developing fibrosis, cirrhosis and finally HCC. CTGF serum levels in HCC are most likely due to underlying fibrosis/cirrhosis but not due to malignancy per se.