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Keywords:

  • colorectal neoplasms;
  • unfolded protein response;
  • biological markers;
  • GRP78;
  • tumour suppressor protein p53;
  • retrospective studies

Adjuvant fluoropyrimidine-based (5-FU) chemotherapy is a mainstay of treatment for colorectal cancer (CRC), but only provides benefit for a subset of patients. To improve stratification we examined (for the first time in CRC), whether analysis of GRP78 expression provides a predictive biomarker and performed functional studies to examine the role of GRP78 in sensitivity to 5-FU. 396 CRC patient samples were collected in a prospective uniform manner and GRP78 expression was determined by immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays using a well-validated antibody. Expression was correlated with clinicopathological parameters and survival. The role of GRP78 in 5-FU sensitivity was examined in CRC cells using siRNA, drug inhibition and flow cytometry. GRP78 expression was significantly elevated in cancer tissue (p < 0.0001), and correlated with depth of invasion (p = 0.029) and stage (p = 0.032). Increased overall 5-year survival was associated with high GRP78 expression (p = 0.036). Patients with stage II cancers treated by surgery alone, with high GRP78 also had improved survival (71% v 50%; p = 0.032). Stage III patients with high GRP78 showed significant benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy (52% vs. 28%; p = 0.026), whereas patients with low GRP78 failed to benefit (28% vs. 32%; p = 0.805). Low GRP78 was an independent prognostic indicator of reduced overall 5-year survival (p = 0.004; HR = 1.551; 95%CI 1.155–2.082). In vitro, inhibition of GRP78 reduces apoptosis in response to 5-FU in p53 wild-type cells. GRP78 expression may provide a simple additional risk stratification to inform the adjuvant treatment of CRC and future studies should combine analysis with determination of p53 status.