Background Canine hemangiosarcoma (cHSA) is a highly metastatic mesenchymal cancer that disseminates by hematogenous and direct implantation routes. Therapies for cHSA are generally ineffective, in part due to advanced clinical disease stage at the time of diagnosis. The validation of conventional molecular methods for detecting novel biomarkers preferentially expressed by cHSA could lead to more timely diagnosis, earlier therapeutic interventions, and improved outcomes. In humans, prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) is a transmembrane protein overexpressed by prostate carcinoma and tumor-associated endothelium of various solid cancer histologies. Importantly, the preferential overexpression of PSMA by certain cancers has been leveraged for the development of diagnostic molecular imaging reagents and targeted therapeutics. Recently, PSMA has been qualitatively demonstrated to be expressed in cHSA cell lines, however, quantitative PSMA expressions and the potential utility of PSMA transcript identification in biologic fluids to support the presence of microscopic cHSA burden has not been reported. Therefore, this study sought to characterize the differential quantitative expressions of PSMA between cHSA and non-malignant tissues, and to determine the potential diagnostic utility of PCR-generated PSMA amplicons as a surrogate of rare cHSA cells dwelling within peritoneal and pericardial cavities. Methods Quantitative gene and protein expressions for PSMA were compared between one normal endothelial and six cHSA cell lines by RT-PCR, western blot analysis, and fluorescent microscopy. Additionally, gene and protein expressions of PSMA in normal canine tissues were characterized. Graded expressions of PSMA were determined in spontaneously-arising cHSA tumor samples and the feasibility of qualitative PCR as a molecular diagnostic to detect PSMA transcripts in whole blood from healthy dogs and hemorrhagic effusions from cHSA-bearing dogs were evaluated. Results PSMA gene and protein expressions were elevated (up to 6-fold) in cHSA cells compared with non-malignant endothelium. By immunohistochemistry, protein expressions of PSMA were detectable in all cHSA tissue samples evaluated. As predicted by human protein atlas data, PSMA’s expression was comparably identified at substantial levels in select normal canine tissues including kidney, liver, and intestine. In young healthy pet dogs, PSMA amplicons could not be identified in circulating whole blood yet were detectable in hemorrhagic effusions collected from pet dogs with confirmed cHSA or PSMA-expressing cancer. Conclusions PSMA is quantitatively overexpressed in cHSA compared to normal endothelium, but its protein expression is not restricted to only cHSA tumor tissues, as specific visceral organs also substantively express PSMA. Optimized qualitative PCR methods failed to amplify PSMA amplicons sufficiently for visible detection in circulating whole blood derived from healthy young dogs, yet PSMA transcripts were readily identifiable in hemorrhagic effusions collected from pet dogs with histologically confirmed cHSA or PSMA-expressing cancer. While preliminary, findings derived from a limited cohort of normal and diseased pet dogs provocatively raise the potential value of PSMA amplicon detection as an ancillary molecular diagnostic test for supporting the presence of microscopic cHSA disease burden within hemorrhagic body cavity effusions.
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