Nestin as a diagnostic and prognostic marker for combined hepatocellular-cholangiocarcinoma

Published:August 17, 2022DOI:


      • Biomarkers for combined hepatocellular-cholangiocarcinoma (cHCC-CCA) are critically needed.
      • Nestin immunohistochemical expression is able to identify the subset of cHCC-CCA associated with the worst clinical outcome.
      • cHCC-CCA with >30% of neoplastic cells expressing Nestin are classified “Nestin High”.
      • Nestin High cHCC-CCA are associated with an adverse outcome after surgical resection and liver transplantation.

      Background & Aims

      Combined hepatocellular-cholangiocarcinoma (cHCC-CCA) is a rare primary liver cancer (PLC) associated with a poor prognosis. Given the challenges in its identification and its clinical implications, biomarkers are critically needed. We aimed to investigate the diagnostic and prognostic value of the immunohistochemical expression of Nestin, a progenitor cell marker, in a large multicentric series of PLCs.


      We collected 461 cHCC-CCA samples from 32 different clinical centers. Control cases included 368 hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) and 221 intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas (iCCAs). Nestin immunohistochemistry was performed on whole tumor sections. Diagnostic and prognostic performances of Nestin expression were determined using receiver-operating characteristic curves and Cox regression modeling.


      Nestin was able to distinguish cHCC-CCA from HCC with AUCs of 0.85 and 0.86 on surgical and biopsy samples, respectively. Performance was lower for the distinction of cHCC-CCA from iCCA (AUCs of 0.59 and 0.60). Nestin, however, showed a high prognostic value, allowing identification of the subset of cHCC-CCA (“Nestin High”, >30% neoplastic cells with positive staining) associated with the worst clinical outcome (shorter disease-free and overall survival) after surgical resection and liver transplantation, as well as when assessment was performed on biopsies.


      We show in different clinical settings that Nestin has diagnostic value and that it is a useful biomarker to identify the subset of cHCC-CCA associated with the worst clinical outcome. Nestin immunohistochemistry may be used to refine risk stratification and improve treatment allocation for patients with this highly aggressive malignancy.

      Lay summary

      There are different types of primary liver cancers (i.e. cancers that originate in the liver). Accurately identifying a specific subtype of primary liver cancer (and determining its associated prognosis) is important as it can have a major impact on treatment allocation. Herein, we show that a protein called Nestin could be used to refine risk stratification and improve treatment allocation for patients with combined hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare but highly aggressive subtype of primary liver cancer.

      Graphical abstract


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