, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 27-38,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

High levels of microRNA-21 in the stroma of colorectal cancers predict short disease-free survival in stage II colon cancer patients

Abstract

Approximately 25% of all patients with stage II colorectal cancer will experience recurrent disease and subsequently die within 5 years. MicroRNA-21 (miR-21) is upregulated in several cancer types and has been associated with survival in colon cancer. In the present study we developed a robust in situ hybridization assay using high-affinity Locked Nucleic Acid (LNA) probes that specifically detect miR-21 in formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples. The expression of miR-21 was analyzed by in situ hybridization on 130 stage II colon and 67 stage II rectal cancer specimens. The miR-21 signal was revealed as a blue chromogenic reaction, predominantly observed in fibroblast-like cells located in the stromal compartment of the tumors. The expression levels were measured using image analysis. The miR-21 signal was determined as the total blue area (TB), or the area fraction relative to the nuclear density (TBR) obtained using a red nuclear stain. High TBR (and TB) estimates of miR-21 expression correlated significantly with shorter disease-free survival (p = 0.004, HR = 1.28, 95% CI: 1.06–1.55) in the stage II colon cancer patient group, whereas no significant correlation with disease-free survival was observed in the stage II rectal cancer group. In multivariate analysis both TB and TBR estimates were independent of other clinical parameters (age, gender, total leukocyte count, K-RAS mutational status and MSI). We conclude that miR-21 is primarily a stromal microRNA, which when measured by image analysis identifies a subgroup of stage II colon cancer patients with short disease-free survival.