Background and objective: In patients with advanced cancer, cachexia correlates with low performance status and poor quality of life. In addition, cachexia may be associated with reduced response to chemoradiotherapy and a poor prognosis in cancer patients. Nearly all forms of cachexia are closely associated with chronic inflammation and elevated levels of inflammatory and pro-inflammatory circulating factors, including C-reactive protein (CRP), which is considered a valid laboratory and clinical marker. Among the different pathways involved in the production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, the vitamin D-vitamin D receptor (VDR) axis plays a fundamental role. In this study, we explore the possible association between CRP and key factors pertaining to the vitamin D axis--in particular, VDR gene polymorphisms--in cancer patients with cachexia. Although certain tumor types are more commonly associated with cachexia, even within the same tumor type there are significant differences in the extent and duration of cachexia. Such variations may be due to polymorphisms of the VDR gene that could lead to cachexia-prone genotypes or to cachexia-resistant genotypes. Identification of such genotypes could be very helpful in the management of cancer patients.
Methods: Forty-three cancer patients were recruited by the Nutritional Unit of the Prato Hospital. Data on age, gender, type of cancer, stage of cancer, and nutritional assessment, as well as transferrin, ferritin, albumin, and CRP levels, were collected. Genomic DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes and amplified by polymerase chain reaction. BsmI, ApaI, TaqI, and FokI polymorphisms of the VDR gene were investigated using the respective restriction enzymes. For the different VDR polymorphisms, the absence or presence of the restriction sites were designated with capital or small letters, respectively. For example, for the BsmI polymorphism, the presence of the undigested fragment identified the B allele, whereas the presence of the digested fragment identified the b allele.
Results: Cancer patients with cachexia have higher CRP levels compared with non-cachectic cancer patients, independently from the genotype. In cachectic patients, the presence of specific VDR BsmI and TaqI alleles was associated with higher CRP levels. In particular, the VDR b and T alleles were more frequent in cachectic cancer patients with elevated CRP levels than in cachectic patients with normal CRP levels.
Conclusion: From these results, we hypothesize that there is an association between BsmI and TaqI VDR gene polymorphisms and the cachectic syndrome. In particular, we propose that in cancer patients, the concomitance of b and T alleles with elevated CRP levels may represent an early clinical predictor for the development of a more aggressive form of cachexia.