Background: The hypoxia marker pimonidazole is a candidate biomarker of cancer aggressiveness. We investigated the transcriptional programme associated with pimonidazole staining in prostate cancer.
Methods: Index tumour biopsies were taken by image guidance from an investigation cohort of 52 patients, where 43 patients received pimonidazole before prostatectomy. Biopsy location within the index tumour was verified for 46 (88%) patients, who were included for gene expression profiling and immunohistochemistry. Two independent cohorts of 59 and 281 patients were used for validation.
Results: Expression of genes in proliferation, DNA repair and hypoxia response was a major part of the transcriptional programme associated with pimonidazole staining. A signature of 32 essential genes was constructed and showed positive correlation to Ki67 staining, confirming the increased proliferation in hypoxic tumours as suggested from the gene data. Positive correlations were also found to tumour stage and lymph node status, but not to blood prostate-specific antigen level, consistent with the findings for pimonidazole staining. The association with aggressiveness was confirmed in validation cohorts, where the signature correlated with Gleason score and had independent prognostic impact, respectively.
Conclusions: Pimonidazole staining reflects an aggressive hypoxic phenotype of prostate cancer characterised by upregulation of proliferation, DNA repair and hypoxia response genes.