Background: This study aimed to characterise epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) expression patterns in colorectal carcinomas (CRC) from Nigerian patients, its association with E-cadherin and tumour characteristics, to forecast patient selection for anti-EpCAM therapy among whom no data existed previously.
Methods: Tissue microarray blocks of formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded CRC tissues, with their non-cancer margins of resection, were sectioned and stained with EpCAM and E-cadherin primary antibodies. Scoring for antibody staining was done semiquantitatively by combining staining proportion and intensity. The outcome was correlated with patient age, gender and tumour histological parameters with p ≤ 0.05 regarded as statistically
Results: Sixty-three carcinoma tissues had staining status for the two markers and were included in this study. Of these, 36 (57.1%) showed positive EpCAM expression (immunoscore ≥3) out of which 83% (30/36 positive cases) were overexpressed (combined immunoscore ≥4) while 12 (19%) tissues were positive for E-cadherin. Non-tumour margins of resection tissues showed less EpCAM positivity in 24% (6/25) of histospots. The difference in staining between tumour and non-tumour margin tissues with EpCAM was significant (p < 0.001). Also, EpCAM overexpression was significantly associated with reduced E-cadherin (p < 0.035) expression in tumour cells. Tumour extent within the gut wall was equal (50% each) for early and late pT stages among EpCAM overexpressing tumours but two-thirds (8/12) of cases expressing E-cadherin had later pT stage paradoxically, while distant metastasis was negligible among tumours bearing both markers. Also, tumours overexpressing EpCAM had significant association with tumour-associated lymphocytes (p < 0.02 each).
Conclusion: CRC in this study preferentially overexpress EpCAM over E-cadherin whose strong cell-cell contact inhibitory role is weakened even when expressed, resulting in further local tumour spread. This, and the observed immune response, supports targeted therapy among eligible patients