Biomarkers for malignant pleural mesothelioma: current status

Mol Diagn Ther. 2008;12(6):375-90. doi: 10.1007/BF03256303.


Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is an aggressive tumor with poor prognosis, whose main etiology is exposure to asbestos fibers. The incidence of MPM is anticipated to increase worldwide during the first half of this century. For various reasons, MPM is difficult to diagnose and is notoriously refractory to most treatments. However, recently two active chemotherapy regimens have been demonstrated to significantly increase survival in patients with MPM, and several therapeutic agents and strategies are currently under evaluation.Researchers have actively sought MPM biomarkers for more than 20 years. Biomarkers would be helpful in managing three clinical aspects of MPM: early diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment outcome prediction. The aims of the present review are to summarize the published and recently presented data on MPM biomarkers and to identify the prospects for future translational research projects.Among the 'classical' diagnostic biomarkers measured in biological fluids, such as cytokeratins and cell surface antigens, none discriminate patients with MPM from those with other malignancies and nonmalignant diseases. Osteopontin, soluble mesothelin, and megakaryocyte potentiating factor (MPF) appear to be the most promising of the recent biomarkers, but are still subject to some limitations. Osteopontin lacks specificity for mesothelioma, while both soluble mesothelin and MPF lack sensitivity for detecting non-epithelial subtypes. Panels consisting of a small set of biomarkers do not improve the diagnostic yield, and results from molecular profiling are too preliminary to be brought into daily clinical practice. While a large number of biomarkers have been assessed in biological fluids and tumor tissue for their prognostic value, none have had a widespread impact on clinical practice. In contrast, data concerning predictive biomarkers are very limited, even though they are most interesting from the perspective of clinicians.Additional prospective studies, in large and independent samples of patients, with rigorous statistical methodology and standardized laboratory techniques are now warranted to validate and define the precise value of diagnostic and prognostic MPM biomarkers. Future research efforts should focus on biomarkers predictive of the efficacy and toxicity of standard chemotherapy. Translational research should be systematically incorporated into the design of clinical trials assessing new targeted agents in MPM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • Humans
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Mesothelin
  • Mesothelioma* / diagnosis
  • Mesothelioma* / metabolism
  • Mesothelioma* / pathology
  • Prognosis


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Biomarkers
  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • MSLN protein, human
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Keratins
  • Mesothelin