AIM: To evaluate the diagnostic value of glypican-3 (GPC3) in serum and liver for primary hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
METHODS: Serum levels of GPC3 and ?-fetoprotein (AFP) were measured in 75 patients with primary HCC and 32 patients with liver cirrhosis. Expression of GPC3 and AFP in 58 HCC and 12 cirrhotic specimens was detected with immunohistochemical staining.
RESULTS: When the cut-off value of serum GPC3 was set at 300 ng/L, its sensitivity and specificity for HCC were 47.0% and 93.5%, respectively. Among the 14 patients with HCC at stage according to the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer staging system, the serum GPC3 level was higher than 300 ng/L in 50% (7/14) patients, the serum AFP level was not ? 400 ?g/L in any patient. Combined serum AFP and GPC3 significantly increased the sensitivity to the diagnosis of HCC. The GPC3 expression was detected in cytoplasm of HCC cells but not in hepatocytes and bile ducts of benign tumors. Among the 58 HCC patients, the GPC3 was expressed in 100% (28/28) patients with their serum AFP level ? 400 ?g/L, and in 90% (27/30) patients with their AFP level < 400 ?g/L, respectively. The GPC3 was weakly or negatively expressed in all paracarcinomatous and cirrhotic tissue samples. AFP positive HCC cells were only found in 1 out of the 58 HCC patients
CONCLUSION: GPC3 protein is a sensitive and specific serum marker for diagnosis of early HCC. Its expression in liver tissues can be used to discriminate tumor cells from benign hepatic cells.