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Background and aims: Combined Hepatocellular-Cholangiocarcinoma (cHCC-CCA) is a rare primary liver cancer (PLC) associated with a poor prognosis. Given the challenges in its identification and its clinical implications, biomarkers are critically needed. We aimed to investigate the diagnostic and prognostic value of the immunohistochemical expression of Nestin, a progenitor cell marker, in a large multicentric series of PLC.
Methods: We collected 461 cHCC-CCA samples from 32 different clinical centers. Control cases included 368 hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) and 221 intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas (ICCA). Nestin immunohistochemistry was performed on whole tumor sections. Diagnostic and prognostic performances of Nestin expression were determined using receiver operating characteristic curves and cox regression modeling.
Results: Nestin was able to distinguish cHCC-CCA from HCC with AUC of 0.85 and 0.86 on surgical and biopsy samples, respectively. Performance was lower for the distinction of cHCC-CCA from ICCA (AUC of 0.59 and 0.60). Nestin, however, showed a high prognostic value, allowing identification of the subset of cHCC-CCA (“Nestin High”, >30% neoplastic cells with positive staining) associated with the worst clinical outcome (shorter disease-free and overall survival) after surgical resection and liver transplantation, as well as when assessment was performed on biopsies.
Conclusion: We show in different clinical settings that Nestin has a diagnostic value and that it is a useful biomarker to identify the subset of cHCC-CCA associated with the worst clinical outcome. Nestin immunohistochemistry may be used to refine risk stratification and improve treatment allocation for patients with this highly aggressive malignancy.