Proteomic profiling of serum is an emerging technique to identify new biomarkers indicative of disease severity and progression. The objective of our study was to assess the use of surface-enhanced laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (SELDI-TOF MS) to identify multiple serum protein biomarkers for detection of liver disease progression to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). A cohort of 170 serum samples obtained from subjects in the United States with no liver disease (n = 39), liver diseases not associated with cirrhosis (n = 36), cirrhosis (n = 38), or HCC (n = 57) were applied to metal affinity protein chips for protein profiling by SELDI-TOF MS. Across the four test groups, 38 differentially expressed proteins were used to generate multiple decision classification trees to distinguish the known disease states. Analysis of a subset of samples with only hepatitis C virus (HCV)-related disease was emphasized. The serum protein profiles of control patients were readily distinguished from each HCV-associated disease state. Two-way comparisons of chronic hepatitis C, HCV cirrhosis, or HCV-HCC versus healthy had a sensitivity/specificity range of 74% to 95%. For distinguishing chronic HCV from HCV-HCC, a sensitivity of 61% and a specificity of 76% were obtained. However, when the values of known serum markers α fetoprotein, des-gamma carboxyprothrombin, and GP73 were combined with the SELDI peak values, the sensitivity and specifity improved to 75% and 92%, respectively. In conclusion, SELDI-TOF MS serum profiling is able to distinguish HCC from liver disease before cirrhosis as well as cirrhosis, especially in patients with HCV infection compared with other etiologies.
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