Purpose: Histopathology is the standard approach for tissue diagnostics and centerpiece of pathology. Although the current system provides prognostic information, there is need for molecular markers that enhance diagnosis and better predict clinical prognosis. The ability to localize disease-specific molecular changes in biopsy tissue would help improve critical pathology decision making. Direct profiling of proteins from tissue using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization imaging mass spectrometry has the potential to supplement morphology with underlying molecular detail.
Experimental design: A discovery set of 11 prostate cancer (PCa)-containing and 10 benign prostate tissue sections was evaluated for protein expression differences. A separate validation set of 54 tissue sections (23 PCa and 31 benign) was used to verify the results. Cryosectioning was done to yield tissue sections analyzed by a pathologist to determine tissue morphology and mirror sections for imaging mass spectrometry. Spectra were acquired and the intensity of signals was plotted as a function of the location within the tissue.
Results: An expression profile was found that discriminates between PCa and normal tissue. The overexpression of a single ion at m/z 4,355 was able to discriminate cancer from uninvolved tissue. Tandem mass spectrometry identified this marker as a fragment of mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase kinase 2 (MEKK2). The ability of MEKK2 to discriminate tumor from normal cells was orthogonally confirmed.
Conclusions: This study highlights the potential of this approach to uncover molecular detail that can be correlated with pathology decision making. In addition, the identification of MEKK2 shows the ability to discover proteins of relevance to PCa biology.