Background: Metastatic melanoma is still one of the most prevalent skin cancers, which upon progression has neither a prognostic marker nor a specific and lasting treatment. Proteomic analysis is a versatile approach with high throughput data and results that can be used for characterizing tissue samples. However, such analysis is hampered by the complexity of the disease, heterogeneity of patients, tumors, and samples themselves. With the long term aim of quest for better diagnostics biomarkers, as well as predictive and prognostic markers, we focused on relating high resolution proteomics data to careful histopathological evaluation of the tumor samples and patient survival information.
Patients and methods: Regional lymph node metastases obtained from ten patients with metastatic melanoma (stage III) were analyzed by histopathology and proteomics using mass spectrometry. Out of the ten patients, six had clinical follow-up data. The protein deep mining mass spectrometry data was related to the histopathology tumor tissue sections adjacent to the area used for deep-mining. Clinical follow-up data provided information on disease progression which could be linked to protein expression aiming to identify tissue-based specific protein markers for metastatic melanoma and prognostic factors for prediction of progression of stage III disease.
Results: In this feasibility study, several proteins were identified that positively correlated to tumor tissue content including IF6, ARF4, MUC18, UBC12, CSPG4, PCNA, PMEL and MAGD2. The study also identified MYC, HNF4A and TGFB1 as top upstream regulators correlating to tumor tissue content. Other proteins were inversely correlated to tumor tissue content, the most significant being; TENX, EHD2, ZA2G, AOC3, FETUA and THRB. A number of proteins were significantly related to clinical outcome, among these, HEXB, PKM and GPNMB stood out, as hallmarks of processes involved in progression from stage III to stage IV disease and poor survival.
Conclusion: In this feasibility study, promising results show the feasibility of relating proteomics to histopathology and clinical outcome, and insight thus can be gained into the molecular processes driving the disease. The combined analysis of histological features including the sample cellular composition with protein expression of each metastasis enabled the identification of novel, differentially expressed proteins. Further studies are necessary to determine whether these putative biomarkers can be utilized in diagnostics and prognostic prediction of metastatic melanoma.