Imaging Mass Spectrometry and Lectin Analysis of N-Linked Glycans in Carbohydrate Antigen-Defined Pancreatic Cancer Tissues

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2021:20:100012. doi: 10.1074/mcp.RA120.002256. Epub 2020 Dec 8.


The early detection of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a complex clinical obstacle yet is key to improving the overall likelihood of patient survival. Current and prospective carbohydrate biomarkers carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) and sialylated tumor-related antigen (sTRA) are sufficient for surveilling disease progression yet are not approved for delineating PDAC from other abdominal cancers and noncancerous pancreatic pathologies. To further understand these glycan epitopes, an imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) approach was used to assess the N-glycome of the human pancreas and pancreatic cancer in a cohort of patients with PDAC represented by tissue microarrays and whole-tissue sections. Orthogonally, these same tissues were characterized by multiround immunofluorescence that defined expression of CA19-9 and sTRA as well as other lectins toward carbohydrate epitopes with the potential to improve PDAC diagnosis. These analyses revealed distinct differences not only in N-glycan spatial localization across both healthy and diseased tissues but importantly between different biomarker-categorized tissue samples. Unique sulfated biantennary N-glycans were detected specifically in normal pancreatic islets. N-glycans from CA19-9-expressing tissues tended to be biantennary, triantennary, and tetra-antennary structures with both core and terminal fucose residues and bisecting GlcNAc. These N-glycans were detected in less abundance in sTRA-expressing tumor tissues, which favored triantennary and tetra-antennary structures with polylactosamine extensions. Increased sialylation of N-glycans was detected in all tumor tissues. A candidate new biomarker derived from IMS was further explored by fluorescence staining with selected lectins on the same tissues. The lectins confirmed the expression of the epitopes in cancer cells and revealed different tumor-associated staining patterns between glycans with bisecting GlcNAc and those with terminal GlcNAc. Thus, the combination of lectin-immunohistochemistry and lectin-IMS techniques produces more complete information for tumor classification than the individual analyses alone. These findings potentiate the development of early assessment technologies to rapidly and specifically identify PDAC in the clinic that may directly impact patient outcomes.

Keywords: CA19-9; MALDI; N-glycans; biomarkers; glycosylation; imaging mass spectrometry; lectins; pancreatic cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lectins / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Pancreas / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*


  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Lectins
  • Polysaccharides
  • carbohydrate antigen 199, human