, Volume 135, Issue 8, pp 1091-1098
Date: 31 Jan 2009

Alpha-fetoprotein and human telomerase reverse transcriptase mRNA levels in peripheral blood of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma

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Tumor-associated gene expression in peripheral blood reflects the presence of circulating hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells and might be associated with aggressive features of HCC. We assessed the prognostic significance of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and human telomerase reverse transcriptase protein (hTERT) mRNA expression in the peripheral blood of HCC patients.


About 343 HCC patients, treated at the National Cancer Center, Korea, were included in this study. We measured AFP and hTERT mRNA levels in peripheral blood using quantitative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. The association between the expression of each gene and survival was analyzed.


AFP and hTERT mRNA were detected in 204 (59.5%) and 48 (14.0%) patients with HCC, respectively. The mean AFP copy number was 203 copies/μL (range 0–19992 copies/μL) and that of hTERT was 26 copies/μL (0–1711 copies/μL). AFP mRNA expression was correlated with the number of tumors (P = 0.05), but there were no significant association between hTERT expression and clinical features. There was also no relationship between overall survival and AFP (P = 0.08) or hTERT (P = 0.67) mRNA expression.


This is the first report to evaluate the association between peripheral blood hTERT mRNA expression, and survival of HCC patients. The results indicate that AFP and hTERT mRNA expression in peripheral blood may not be useful HCC prognostic markers.