Background: Mammalian cells express a single functional heparanase, an endoglycosidase that cleaves heparan sulfate and thereby promotes tumor metastasis, angiogenesis, and inflammation. Malignant mesothelioma is highly aggressive and has a poor prognosis because of the lack of markers for early diagnosis and resistance to conventional therapies. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the mode of action and biological significance of heparanase in mesothelioma and test the efficacy of heparanase inhibitors in the treatment of this malignancy.
Methods: The involvement of heparanase in mesothelioma was investigated by applying mouse models of mesothelioma and testing the effect of heparanase gene silencing (n = 18 mice per experiment; two different models) and heparanase inhibitors (ie, PG545, defibrotide; n = 18 per experiment; six different models). Synchronous pleural effusion and plasma samples from patients with mesothelioma (n = 35), other malignancies (12 non-small cell lung cancer, two small cell lung carcinoma, four breast cancer, three gastrointestinal cancers, two lymphomas), and benign effusions (five patients) were collected and analyzed for heparanase content (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Eighty-one mesothelioma biopsies were analyzed by H-Score for the prognostic impact of heparanase using immunohistochemistry. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: Mesothelioma tumor growth, measured by bioluminescence or tumor weight at termination, was markedly attenuated by heparanase gene silencing (P = .02) and by heparanase inhibitors (PG545 and defibrotide; P < .001 and P = .01, respectively). A marked increase in survival of the mesothelioma-bearing mice (P < .001) was recorded. Heparanase inhibitors were more potent in vivo than conventional chemotherapy. Clinically, heparanase levels in patients' pleural effusions could distinguish between malignant and benign effusions, and a heparanase H-score above 90 was associated with reduced patient survival (hazard ratio = 1.89, 95% confidence interval = 1.09 to 3.27, P = .03).
Conclusions: Our results imply that heparanase is clinically relevant in mesothelioma development. Given these preclinical and clinical data, heparanase appears to be an important mediator of mesothelioma, and heparanase inhibitors are worthy of investigation as a new therapeutic modality in mesothelioma clinical trials.