Cleavage of membrane-anchored heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (proHB-EGF) yields a soluble HB-EGF isoform (sHB-EGF), which is an activating epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) ligand and a C-terminal fragment HB-EGF-C acting directly in the nucleus. In bladder cancer, overexpression of both HB-EGF and EGFR have been observed, but to the authors' knowledge the prognostic significance of different modes of HB-EGF signaling have remained unclear.
Expression and intracellular localization of HB-EGF and EGFR were examined by immunohistochemistry in paraffin-embedded specimens from 121 patients who underwent cystectomy for bladder cancer. Tumor stage was pTis/pT1 in 7 patients, pT2 in 41 patients, pT3 in 55 patients, and pT4 in 18 patients. Lymph node metastases were present in 32 patients.
Using an antibody directed against the C-terminal domain, HB-EGF expression was detected in the cytoplasm or in the nucleus of tumor cells. EGFR staining was uniform at the plasma membrane. The actuarial 5-year cancer-specific survival of patients with tumors with predominant nuclear HB-EGF staining was 28% compared with 57% if HB-EGF staining was predominantly cytoplasmic (P = .027). Disease outcome of patients with a ‘mixed’ HB-EGF staining pattern was found to be between that of the 2 former groups. In agreement with previous studies, strong EGFR expression was associated with poor prognosis. Despite strong EGFR expression, predominant cytoplasmic HB-EGF staining was associated with a more favorable outcome, whereas a predominant nuclear pattern defined a subgroup with extremely poor prognosis (5-year tumor-specific survival of 55% vs 13%, respectively; P = .026).
The current study results confirm that EGFR expression is significantly correlated with disease-specific mortality but that the outcome is also influenced by the mode of HB-EGF signaling. Additional nuclear HB-EGF signaling, indicative of increased cleavage of proHB-EGF, appears to enhance the adverse activities. Cytoplasmic HB-EGF staining likely reflects proHB-EGF, which may also exert antiproliferative effects. Cancer 2007. © 2007 American Cancer Society.