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EZH2 protein: a promising immunomarker for the detection of hepatocellular carcinomas in liver needle biopsies
  1. Mu-Yan Cai1,2,
  2. Zhu-Ting Tong1,
  3. Fang Zheng1,
  4. Yi-Ji Liao1,
  5. Yi Wang1,
  6. Hui-Lan Rao1,2,
  7. Yang-Chao Chen3,
  8. Qiu-Liang Wu1,2,
  9. Yan-Hui Liu4,
  10. Xin-Yuan Guan1,
  11. Marie C Lin1,3,
  12. Yi-Xin Zeng1,
  13. Hsiang-Fu Kung1,3,
  14. Dan Xie1
  1. 1State Key Laboratory of Oncology in South China, Cancer Center, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China
  2. 2Department of Pathology, Cancer Center, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China
  3. 3State Key Laboratory of Oncology in South China, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  4. 4Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Guangdong Provincial People's Hospital, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Dan Xie, State key Laboratory of Oncology in South China, Cancer Center, Sun Yat-Sen University, No. 651, Dongfeng Road East, 510060 Guangzhou, China; xied{at}


Background and aims A previous study of ours indicated that enhancer of zeste homologue 2 (EZH2) plays an important role in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tumorigenesis. The aim of the present study was to investigate the potential diagnostic utility of EZH2 in HCC.

Methods Immunohistochemistry was performed to examine the expression dynamics of EZH2 in two independent surgical cohorts of HCC and non-malignant liver tissues to develop a diagnostic yield of EZH2, HSP70 and GPC3 for HCC detection. The diagnostic performances of EZH2 and a three-marker panel in HCC were re-evaluated by using an additional biopsy cohort.

Results Immunohistochemistry analysis demonstrated that the sensitivity and specificity of EZH2 for HCC detection was 95.8% and 97.8% in the testing cohort. Similar results were confirmed in the validation cohort. For diagnosis of well-differentiated HCCs, the sensitivity and specificity were 68.9% and 91.5% for EZH2, 62.5% and 98.5% for HSP70, 50.0% and 92.1% for GPC3, and 75.0% and 100% for a three-marker panel. In biopsies, positive cases for at least one marker increased from large regenerative nodule and hepatocellular adenoma (0/12) to focal nodular hyperplasia (2/20), dysplastic nodule (7/25), well-differentiated HCC (16/18) and moderately and poorly differentiated HCC (54/54). When at least two positive markers were considered, regardless of their identity, the positive cases were detected in 0/12 large regenerative nodules and hepatocellular adenomas, 0/20 focal nodular hyperplasias, 0/25 dysplastic nodules, 11/18 well-differentiated HCCs, 32/37 moderately differentiated HCCs and 15/17 poorly differentiated HCCs.

Conclusion Our findings suggest that EZH2 protein, as examined by immunohistochemistry, may serve as a promising diagnostic biomarker of HCCs, and the use of a three-marker panel (EZH2, HSP70 and GPC3) can improve the rate of detection of HCCs in liver biopsy tissues.

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • dysplastic nodule
  • enhancer of zeste homologue
  • biomarker
  • diagnosis
  • liver needle biopsy
  • liver biopsy

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  • See Commentary, p 881

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  • Funding This study was supported by grants made under China's 973 National Basic Research Programme (Nos. 2010CB529401 and 2010CB912803) and 863 High Technology Development Programme (No. 2007AA021901), and by a grant from the Guangzhou Science and Technology Bureau Foundation (No. 2005Z1-E0131).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of The Institute Research Medical Ethics Committee of Sun Yat-Sen University Cancer Center.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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