Differential clinical significance of individual NKG2D ligands in melanoma: soluble ULBP2 as an indicator of poor prognosis superior to S100B

Annette Paschen, Antje Sucker, Bettina Hill, Iris Moll, Marc Zapatka, Xuan Duc Nguyen, Geok Choo Sim, Isabelle Gutmann, Jessica Hassel, Jürgen C Becker, Alexander Steinle, Dirk Schadendorf, Selma Ugurel
Clinical Cancer Research 2009 August 15, 15 (16): 5208-15

PURPOSE: Cytotoxic lymphocytes interact with human tumor cells via the activating immunoreceptor NKG2D, recognizing a variety of stress-associated MIC and ULBP surface molecules. However, tumors can escape from this immunosurveillance by shedding NKG2D ligands (NKG2DL), rendering the soluble products detectable in patients' sera.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: To elucidate the clinical significance of NKG2DL diversity, we studied their expression on melanoma tissues and their presence as soluble molecules in sera from >200 melanoma patients and compared the latter with the well-established serum marker S100B.

RESULTS: Immunohistochemistry revealed a heterogeneous expression of MIC and ULBP2 molecules between and within melanoma metastases. Compared with MIC, ULBP2 was less frequently expressed. Accordingly, elevated levels of soluble ULBP2 (sULBP2) were detected in sera of melanoma patients less frequently than elevated levels of soluble MICA (sMICA), although both soluble NKG2DL (sNKG2DL) were significantly increased compared with sera of healthy controls (P < 0.0001). Strikingly, elevated concentrations of sULBP2, but not of sMICA, were strongly associated with disease progression (P < 0.0001) and tumor load (P = 0.0003). Elevated serum levels of either sNKG2DL correlated with reduced overall survival, albeit considerably stronger for sULBP2 (P < 0.0001) than for sMICA (P = 0.011). In early-stage (I-III) melanoma patients, only sULBP2 (P < 0.0001) but neither sMICA nor S100B revealed prognostic significance. Multivariate analysis identified sULBP2 (P = 0.0015) and S100B (P = 0.013) but not sMICA as independent predictors of prognosis.

CONCLUSION: Our data reveal marked differences in the clinical significance of individual sNKG2DL. Only sULBP2 is an independent predictor of prognosis, the significance of which is superior to the well-established and widely used melanoma serum marker S100B.

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