Aims: Galectins are multifunctional lectins binding to the β-galactoside of glycoproteins that affect diverse physiological and pathophysiological processes such as development, inflammation and tumor growth. In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the over-expression of galectin-1, 3, and 4 has been reported, although their function and correlation with tumor progression remain unknown. Thus, we aimed to assess the role of galectin-3 during HCC progression.
Methods: Specimens were obtained during curative operations and used for immunohistochemical analysis of galectin-3 (n = 52), and statistically assessed for correlations with the clinical profiles and the prognoses of the patients. The serum galectin-3 levels from the patients with liver diseases including HCC were assessed by ELISA.
Results: In total, galectin-3 expression was found in 34 of 52 tumors (65%) and was statistically correlated with histological differentiation and vascular invasion. Kaplan-Meier's analysis showed that patients with galectin-3 expression tended to relapse in the earlier phase and had worse overall survival. In particular, a higher expression rate of nuclear galectin-3 showed a markedly worse prognosis, and it was independent in the multivariate analysis for overall survival. Serum galectin-3 levels were significantly increased in HCC compared with chronic liver disease. The sensitivity and specificity of galectin-3 were equivalent to alpha-fetoprotein and Vitamin K absence or antagonist II, and the combination of HCC biomarkers with galectin-3 improved the diagnostic performance.
Conclusions: Galectin-3 expression was involved in the tumor progression and related to the prognosis of HCC. Our observations suggested that galectin-3 could be a novel tumor marker and therapeutic target.