Background: Numerous transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase pathways have been found to play an important role in tumor progression in some cancers. This study was aimed to evaluate the clinical impact of Eph receptor A4 (EphA4) in patients with rectal cancer treated with neoadjuvant concurrent chemoradiotherapy (CCRT) combined with mesorectal excision, with special emphasis on tumor regression.Methods: Analysis of the publicly available expression profiling dataset of rectal cancer disclosed that EphA4 was the top-ranking, significantly upregulated, transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase pathway-associated gene in the non-responders to CCRT, compared with the responders. Immunohistochemical study was conducted to assess the EphA4 expression in pre-treatment biopsy specimens from 172 rectal cancer patients without distant metastasis. The relationships between EphA4 expression and various clinicopathological factors or survival were statistically analyzed.Results: EphA4 expression was significantly associated with vascular invasion (P=0.015), post-treatment depth of tumor invasion (P=0.006), pre-treatment and post-treatment lymph node metastasis (P=0.004 and P=0.011, respectively). More importantly, high EphA4 expression was significantly predictive for lesser degree of tumor regression after CCRT (P=0.031). At univariate analysis, high EphA4 expression was a negative prognosticator for disease-specific survival (P=0.0009) and metastasis-free survival (P=0.0001). At multivariate analysis, high expression of EphA4 still served as an independent adverse prognostic factor for disease-specific survival (HR, 2.528; 95% CI, 1.131-5.651; P=0.024) and metastasis-free survival (HR, 3.908; 95% CI, 1.590-9.601; P=0.003).Conclusion: High expression of EphA4 predicted lesser degree of tumor regression after CCRT and served as an independent negative prognostic factor in patients with rectal cancer.
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