Scand. J. Gastroenterol. - (-) 1-11 [2023-04-05; online 2023-04-05]
Patients with liver cirrhosis are recommended ultrasonography screening for early detection of hepatocellular carcinoma to increase the chances of curative treatment. However, ultrasonography alone lacks in sensitivity. Adding plasma biomarkers may increase the detection rate. We performed a broad exploratory analysis to find new plasma proteins with potential applicability for HCC screening in patients with cirrhosis. In a protein discovery cohort of 172 patients with cirrhosis or HCC, we screened for 481 proteins with suspension bead array or proximity extension assay. From these, 24 proteins were selected for further analysis in a protein verification cohort (n = 160), using ELISA, Luminex or an electrochemiluminescence platform. A cut-off model and a stepwise logistic regression model were used to find combinations of proteins with the best discriminatory performance between HCC and cirrhosis. Stepwise logistic regression revealed alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), decarboxy-prothrombin (DCP), thioredoxin reductase 1 (TXNRD1), and fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) as the proteins with the best discriminatory performance between HCC and cirrhosis. Adding TXNRD1 to DCP and AFP increased the AUC from 0.844 to 0.878, and combining AFP, DCP and TXNRD1 with age and sex resulted in an AUC of 0.920. FGF21, however, did not further increase the performance when including age and sex. In the present study, TXNRD1 improves the sensitivity and specificity of AFP and DCP as HCC screening tools in patients with cirrhosis. We suggest that TXNRD1 should be validated in prospective settings as a new complementary HCC biomarker together with AFP and DCP.