Associations of Serum Tumor Biomarkers with Integrated Genomic and Clinical Characteristics of Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Keun Soo Ahn, Daniel R. O'Brien, Yong Hoon Kim, Tae Seok Kim, Hiroyuki Yamada, Joong Won Park, Sang Jae Park, Seoung Hoon Kim, Cheng Zhang, Hu Li, Koo Jeong Kang, Lewis R. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Serum α-fetoprotein (AFP), Lens culinaris agglutinin-reactive AFP (AFP-L3), and des-γ-carboxy-pro-thrombin (DCP) are useful biomarkers of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, associations among molecular characteristics and serum biomarkers are unclear. We analyzed RNA expression and DNA variant data from The Cancer Genome Atlas Liver Hepatocellular Carcinoma (TCGA-LIHC) to examine their associations with serum biomarker levels and clinical data. Methods: From 371 TCGA-LIHC patients, we selected 91 seen at 3 institutions in Korea and the USA and measured AFP, AFP-L3, and DCP from preoperatively obtained serum. We conducted an integrative clinical and molecular analysis, focusing on biomarkers, and validated the findings with the remaining 280 patients in the TCGA-LIHC cohort. Results: Patients were categorized into 4 subgroups: elevated AFP or AFP-L3 alone (↑AFP&L3), elevated DCP alone (↑DCP), elevation of all 3 biomarkers (elevated levels of all 3 biomarkers [↑All]), and reference range values for all biomarkers (RR). CTNNB1 variants were frequently observed in ↑DCP patients (53.8%) and RR patients (38.5%), but ↑DCP patients with a CTNNB1 variant had worse survival than RR patients. TP53 sequence variants were associated with ↑AFP (30.8%) and ↑DCP (30.8%). The Wnt-β-catenin signaling pathway was activated in the ↑AFP&L3, whereas liver-related Wnt signaling was activated in the RR. TGF-β and VEGF signaling were activated in ↑AFP&L3, whereas dysregulated bile acid and fatty acid metabolism were dominant in ↑DCP. We validated these findings by showing similar results between the test cohort and the remainder of the TCGA-LIHC cohort. Conclusions: Serum AFP, AFP-L3, and DCP levels can help predict variants in the genetic profile of HCC, especially for TP53 and CTNNB1. These findings may facilitate development of an evidence-based approach to treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-605
Number of pages13
JournalLiver Cancer
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 22 2021


  • CTNNB1
  • Des-γ-carboxyprothrombin
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • TP53
  • α-Fetoprotein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Oncology


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