BMC Cancer (Jan 2023)
Mesenchymal circulating tumor cells and Ki67: their mutual correlation and prognostic implications in hepatocellular carcinoma
Abstract Background Mesenchymal circulating tumor cells (M-CTCs) may be related to tumor progression, and Ki67 expression is known to be involved in tumor proliferation. The aim of the present study was to explore the relationship between M-CTCs and Ki67 in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and their ability to predict prognosis. Methods Peripheral blood samples were obtained from 105 HCC patients before radical surgery. CTCs were isolated using CanPatrol enrichment and classified via in situ hybridization. Ki67 expression in HCC tissue was assessed through immunohistochemistry. Potential relationships of M-CTC, Ki67 with clinicopathological factors and prognosis were evaluated. Overall survival (OS) was analyzed using the Kaplan–Meier method and Cox regression. The prognostic efficacy of M-CTC, Ki67 and both together (M-CTC + Ki67) was assessed in terms of time-dependent receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves and Harrell's concordance index. Results Of the 105 patients, 50 were positive for M-CTCs (count ≥ 1 per 5 mL) and 39 showed high Ki67 expression (≥ 50% tumor cells were Ki67-positive). The presence of M-CTC was significantly associated with alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) ≥ 400 ng/mL (P = 0.007), tumor size ≥ 5 cm (P = 0.023), multiple tumors (P < 0.001), poorly differentiated tumors (P = 0.003), incomplete tumor capsule (P < 0.001), Barcelona Clinic liver cancer (BCLC) stage B or C (P < 0.001), microvascular invasion (MVI) (P = 0.05) and portal vein tumor thrombosis (PVTT) (P = 0.006). High Ki67 expression correlated with AFP ≥ 400 ng/mL (P = 0.015), tumor size ≥ 5 cm (P = 0.012), incomplete tumor capsule (P < 0.001), MVI (P = 0.001), PVTT (P = 0.003), advanced BCLC stage (P = 0.01), and vessel carcinoma embolus (VCE) (P = 0.001). M-CTC positively correlated with Ki67. Patients positive for M-CTCs had a significantly shorter OS than patients negative for them. Similarly, high Ki67 expression was associated with a significantly lower OS. The high-risk group (positive for M-CTCs and high Ki67 expression) had worse OS than the other groups (P < 0.0001). Uni- and multivariate analyses showed that OS was independently predicted by M-CTC [hazard ratio (HR) 1.115; P < 0.001], Ki67 (HR 1.666; P = 0.046) and the combination of both (HR 2.885; P = 0.008). Based on ROC curves and the concordance index, the combination of M-CTC and Ki67 was superior to either parameter alone for predicting the OS of HCC patients. Conclusions The presence of M-CTC correlates with high Ki67 expression in HCC patients, and both factors are associated with poor prognosis. Furthermore, the combination of M-CTC and Ki67 is a useful prognostic indicator for predicting OS in patients with HCC after hepatectomy, performing better than either parameter on its own.