Background: Osteopontin (OPN) can recruit macrophages to the site of inflammation and promote tumorigenesis. M2 tumor-associated macrophages (M2-TAMs) also play an important role in cancer progression. This study aimed to clarify the role of OPN and M2-TAMs co-existence in gastric cancer.
Methods: The levels of OPN and M2-TAMs were evaluated by immunohistochemical staining in 170 resected gastric cancer specimens that were collected from 1998 to 2012. M2-TAMs were identified by staining for an M2 marker, CD204. The prognostic significance and correlation between OPN and CD204 expression were analyzed. A co-culture system of OPN+-AGS and U937 cells was designed to study the effect of OPN on the skewing of macrophages toward M2-TAMs for gastric cancer progression in vitro and in vivo.
Results: Patients with high expression (>50%) of OPN or CD204 exhibited poor 5-year overall survival rates (48.61%, p = 0.0055, and 52.14%, p = 0.0498, respectively). A positive correlation was observed between OPN and CD204 expression and high co-expression of OPN and CD204 demonstrated poor 5-year overall survival rates (48.90%, p = 0.0131). In the co-culture study, OPN was able to attract U937 cells and skew them toward M2-TAMs through paracrine action. The M2-TAMs could increase the invasiveness of OPN+-AGS cells and the growth rate of xenograft of a mixture of co-cultured OPN+-AGS and U937 cells.
Conclusion: OPN can skew macrophages toward M2-TAMs during gastric cancer progression. The co-existence of OPN and infiltrating M2-TAMs correlates with disease progression and poor survival and thus can serve as a prognostic marker in gastric cancer.