SALL4 represents fetal gut differentiation of gastric cancer, and is diagnostically useful in distinguishing hepatoid gastric carcinoma from hepatocellular carcinoma

Am J Surg Pathol. 2010 Apr;34(4):533-40. doi: 10.1097/PAS.0b013e3181d1dcdd.


The novel stem cell marker SALL4 has been identified as a diagnostic marker of germ cell tumors, especially yolk sac tumors, in gonadal organs. To clarify the significance of SALL4 as an oncofetal protein, we investigated SALL4 expression by immunohistochemistry in non-neoplastic stomach and gastric carcinoma with particular emphasis on á-fetoprotein (AFP)-producing gastric carcinoma, as AFP-producing gastric carcinoma shares expression of AFP and glypican 3 (GPC3) with yolk sac tumors and hepatic neoplasms. A total of 338 gastric carcinomas, 60 hepatocellular carcinomas, and 48 cholangiocellular carcinomas were studied by immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays. In addition, more detailed whole tissue section immunohistochemistry was performed on non-neoplastic gastric tissue from 5 adult and 8 fetal specimens, 6 hepatoblastomas, and 31 cases of AFP-producing gastric carcinomas. SALL4 expression was observed in the neofetal stomach in gestational week 9 and disappeared thereafter. It was also identified by tissue microarray study in a fraction of gastric carcinomas (51 of 338, 15%), associated with older age (P=0.0001), male sex (P=0.0033), intestinal-type histology (P=0.0001), and synchronous liver metastasis (P=0.0047). AFP and GPC3 were closely associated with SALL4 expression in gastric carcinoma (both, P<0.0001), and a full-section study indicated that SALL4 was positive in all 31 cases of AFP-producing gastric carcinoma with diffuse staining in 24 cases (78%). Diffuse SALL4 expression was observed in the histologic patterns of hepatoid (89%), glandular (57%), and clear cell (39%) AFP-producing gastric carcinoma. In addition, SALL4 expression was completely negative in hepatoblastoma (n=6) and hepatocellular carcinoma (n=60). SALL4 is an oncofetal protein similar to AFP and GPC3, but it represents fetal gut differentiation in gastric carcinoma. SALL4 is a sensitive marker for AFP-producing gastric carcinoma and is especially useful to distinguish hepatoid gastric carcinoma from hepatocellular carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis*
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Adenocarcinoma / secondary
  • Aged
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / secondary
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Fetus / embryology
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Gestational Age
  • Glypicans / metabolism
  • Hepatoblastoma / diagnosis*
  • Hepatoblastoma / metabolism
  • Hepatoblastoma / secondary
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Stomach / embryology
  • Stomach Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Tissue Array Analysis
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • alpha-Fetoproteins / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Glypicans
  • SALL4 protein, human
  • Transcription Factors
  • alpha-Fetoproteins