Background: For patients with locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC) neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy is recommended as standard therapy. So far, no predictive or prognostic molecular factors for patients undergoing multimodal treatment are established. Increased angiogenesis and altered tumour metabolism as adaption to hypoxic conditions in cancers play an important role in tumour progression and metastasis. Enhanced expression of Vascular-endothelial-growth-factor-receptor (VEGF-R) and Transketolase-like-1 (TKTL1) are related to hypoxic conditions in tumours. In search for potential prognostic molecular markers we investigated the expression of VEGFR-1, VEGFR-2 and TKTL1 in patients with LARC treated with neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy and cetuximab.
Methods: Tumour and corresponding normal tissue from pre-therapeutic biopsies of 33 patients (m: 23, f: 10; median age: 61 years) with LARC treated in phase-I and II trials with neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (cetuximab, irinotecan, capecitabine in combination with radiotherapy) were analysed by quantitative PCR.
Results: Significantly higher expression of VEGFR-1/2 was found in tumour tissue in pre-treatment biopsies as well as in resected specimen after neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy compared to corresponding normal tissue. High TKTL1 expression significantly correlated with disease free survival. None of the markers had influence on early response parameters such as tumour regression grading. There was no correlation of gene expression between the investigated markers.
Conclusion: High TKTL-1 expression correlates with poor prognosis in terms of 3 year disease-free survival in patients with LARC treated with intensified neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy and may therefore serve as a molecular prognostic marker which should be further evaluated in randomised clinical trials.