Background/aims: The MAGE, GAGE and BAGE genes encode tumor antigens recognized by autologous cytotoxic T lymphocytes. The aim of this study was to evaluate the possibility of using these genes as molecular markers and as the targets of specific immunotherapy for human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Methods: The expressions of MAGE-1, MAGE-3, GAGE1-6, GAGE1-2 and BAGE mRNA in 33 surgically resected HCC samples and 26 of their corresponding non-cancerous samples (11 liver cirrhosis and 15 chronic hepatitis) were studied by a reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction, and were compared with clinicopathological parameters. The expression of MAGE-1 was also examined in 16 biopsied HCC samples.
Results: MAGE-1, MAGE-3, GAGE1-6, GAGE1-2 and BAGE mRNA were expressed in 67%, 39%, 36%, 30%, and 21% of the HCC, respectively. At least one transcript was detected in 88% of the HCC, while no expression was observed in the non-cancerous livers. There was no significant correlation between the expression of any of the tumor antigens examined and the differentiation stage or size of the HCC. Especially, MAGE-1 was highly expressed in small HCC with a diameter of less than 2 cm and in well-differentiated HCC (81% and 70%, respectively), and was also expressed even in alpha-fetoprotein-negative and PIVKA-II-negative HCC (58% and 76%, respectively). The MAGE-1 expression was detected in 69% of biopsied HCC samples and the expression was high in both small and well-differentiated HCC.
Conclusions: These tumor-specific antigens can be useful as molecular markers and as the possible target molecules for the specific immunotherapy of human HCC.