Introduction/hypothesis: Over-expression of the c-Met receptor tyrosine kinase has been described in a variety of cancers and implicated in tumor progression. Unlike some solid tumors, current evidence indicates that c-Met activation in colon cancer is unrelated to gene mutation, is ligand dependent, and occurs via a paracrine fashion. We hypothesize that over-expression of the c-Met receptor and its ligand, hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) in the tumor microenvironment is associated with tumor progression and metastases.
Methods: Primary tumor c-Met and HGF mRNA expression was analyzed in 60 colon adenocarcinomas. Receptor and ligand expression was analyzed for correlation and association with clinicopathologic features and outcome.
Results: Compared to adjacent normal mucosa, 69% and 48% of tumors showed a greater than 2- and greater than 10-fold elevation in c-Met mRNA, respectively. Elevated HGF mRNA was noted in 47% of tumors with 19% having a greater than 10-fold increase. Tumor c-Met expression was correlated with HGF expression, and a cohort of 33 patients could be defined with both low c-Met and HGF expression. Compared with the 27 tumors with either high c-Met or HGF, the cohort with low c-Met and HGF expression had fewer nodal and distant metastases as well as improved overall survival (HR=2.3, p<0.05).
Conclusion: Evaluation of the c-Met receptor in context of ligand, HGF, allows identification of a metastatic phenotype that correlates with advanced stage and poor survival. c-Met and HGF co-expression in the tumor microenvironment could be useful in the molecular staging of colon cancer and viable therapeutic targets.