A blood-based prognostic liver secretome signature and long-term hepatocellular carcinoma risk in advanced liver fibrosis
Background Accurate non-invasive prediction of long-term hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) risk in advanced liver fibrosis is urgently needed for cost-effective HCC screening; however, this currently remains an unmet need. Methods A serum-protein-based prognostic liver secretome signature (PLSec) was bioinformatically derived from previously validated hepatic transcriptome signatures and optimized in 79 patients with advanced liver fibrosis. We independently validated PLSec for HCC risk in 331 cirrhosis patients with mixed etiologies (validation set 1 [V1], median follow-up 4.5 years) and thereafter developed a composite risk score including clinical prognostic variables. The score was then validated in two independent cohorts: validation set 2 (V2): 164 patients with advanced liver fibrosis due to hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection cured after direct-acting antiviral therapy (nested case-control series, median follow-up 4.5 years); validation set 3 (V3): 146 patients with advanced liver fibrosis with successfully-treated HCC and cured HCV infection (median follow-up 2.9 years). Findings An 8-protein blood-based PLSec recapitulated transcriptome-based hepatic HCC risk status. In V1, PLSec was significantly associated with incident HCC risk (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 2.35; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.30-4.23). A composite score with serum alpha-fetoprotein (PLSec-AFP) was defined in V1, and validated in V2 (adjusted odds ratio, 3.80 [95%CI, 1.66-8.66]) and V3 (aHR, 3.08 [95%CI, 1.78-5.31]; c-index, 0.74). PLSec-AFP outperformed AFP alone (Brier score, 0.165 vs. 0.186 in V2; 0.196 vs. 0.206 in V3, respectively). Conclusions The blood-based PLSec-AFP can accurately stratify patients with advanced liver fibrosis for long-term HCC risk and thereby guide risk-based tailored HCC screening.