Fueling the flames of colon cancer – does CRP play a direct pro-inflammatory role?
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionFrontiers in Immunology. 2023, 14, 1170443. 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1170443
Background: Systemic inflammation, diagnostically ascribed by measuring serum levels of the acute phase reactant C-reactive protein (CRP), has consistently been correlated with poor outcomes across cancer types. CRP exists in two structurally and functionally distinct isoforms, circulating pentameric CRP (pCRP) and the highly pro-inflammatory monomeric isoform (mCRP). The aim of this pilot study was to map the pattern of mCRP distribution in a previously immunologically well-defined colon cancer (CC) cohort and explore possible functional roles of mCRP within the tumor microenvironment (TME). Methods: Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples from 43 stage II and III CC patients, including 20 patients with serum CRP 0-1 mg/L and 23 patients with serum CRP >30 mg/L were immunohistochemically (IHC) stained with a conformation-specific mCRP antibody and selected immune and stromal markers. A digital analysis algorithm was developed for evaluating mCRP distribution within the primary tumors and adjacent normal colon mucosa. Results: mCRP was abundantly present within tumors from patients with high serum CRP (>30 mg/L) diagnostically interpreted as being systemically inflamed, whereas patients with CRP 0-1 mg/L exhibited only modest mCRP positivity (median mCRP per area 5.07‰ (95%CI:1.32-6.85) vs. 0.02‰ (95%CI:0.01-0.04), p<0.001). Similarly, tissue-expressed mCRP correlated strongly with circulating pCRP (Spearman correlation 0.81, p<0.001). Importantly, mCRP was detected exclusively within tumors, whereas adjacent normal colon mucosa showed no mCRP expression. Double IHC staining revealed colocalization of mCRP with endothelial cells and neutrophils. Intriguingly, some tumor cells also colocalized with mCRP, suggesting a direct interaction or mCRP expression by the tumor itself. Conclusion: Our data show that the pro-inflammatory mCRP isoform is expressed in the TME of CC, primarily in patients with high systemic pCRP values. This strengthens the hypothesis that CRP might not only be an inflammatory marker but also an active mediator within tumors.