Multiplex protein analysis and ensemble machine learning methods of fine needle aspirates from prostate cancer patients reveal potential diagnostic signatures associated with tumour grade

Cytopathology. 2023 Jul;34(4):286-294. doi: 10.1111/cyt.13226. Epub 2023 Mar 20.


Background: Improved molecular diagnosis is needed in prostate cancer (PC). Fine needle aspiration (FNA) is a minimally invasive biopsy technique, less traumatic compared to core needle biopsy, and could be useful for diagnosis of PC. Molecular biomarkers (BMs) in FNA-samples can be assessed for prediction, eg of immunotherapy efficacy before treatment as well as at treatment decision time points during disease progression.

Methods: In the present pilot study, the expression levels of 151 BM proteins were analysed by proximity extension assay in FNA-samples from 16 patients, including benign prostate lesions (n = 3) and cancers (n = 13). An ensemble data analysis strategy was applied using several machine learning models.

Results: Twelve potentially predictive BM proteins correlating with International Society of Urological Pathology grade groups were identified, among them vimentin, tissue factor pathway inhibitor 2, and integrin beta-5. The validity of the results was supported by network analysis that showed functional associations between most of the identified putative BMs. We also showed that multiple immune checkpoint targets can be assessed (eg PD-L1, CD137, and Galectin-9), which may support the selection of immunotherapy in advanced PC. Results are promising but need further validation in a larger cohort.

Conclusions: Our pilot study represents a "proof of concept" and shows that multiplex profiling of potential diagnostic and predictive BM proteins is feasible on tumour material obtained by FNA sampling of prostate cancer. Moreover, our results demonstrate that an ensemble data analysis strategy may facilitate the identification of BM signatures in pilot studies when the patient cohort is limited.

Keywords: biomarkers; fine needle aspiration biopsy; immune signalling; machine learning; prostate cancer; proximity extension assay.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Biopsy, Large-Core Needle
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prostate / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms* / pathology


  • Biomarkers