1. Embryonic Antigen
1.1. Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP)
AFP, the most available tumor biomarker, is currently used for early detection of HCC. Serum AFP had a sensitivity of 41% - 65% and specificity of 80% - 94% (13). Alpha-Fetoprotein has a positive rate ranging from 60% to 80%. Furthermore, AFP is positive during pregnancy, embryonic tumors and some gastrointestinal tumors. It is a major biomarker in benign liver diseases and exists in the serum and liver of patients with HCC. When total AFP is 10 - 200 ng/mL, the diagnostic specificity for HCC reaches 100%. Moreover, AFP does not correlate with other biomarkers, thus it can be used as an independent factor for the early diagnosis of HCC (14-16).
2.1. Glypican-3 (GPC3)
GPC3 is a potential marker for HCC. It links to the cell membrane by a glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor. It is a heparan sulfate proteoglycans that is involved in regulating cell growth. Furthermore, GPC3 can remove tumorigenic growth factors (such as hepatocyte growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor) from the cell surface and inhibit the growth of HCC (17, 18). There is no correlation between GPC3 expression and AFP level, tumor size and stage (19).
2.2. Heat Shock Protein 70 (HSP70)
HSP70 is a potential marker for HCC. It is expressed when someone is exposed to carcinogens. It is a conserved stress response protein and can promote cells to repair damages. Immunohistochemical staining, showed that the positive rate of HSP70 was 56.3 in HCC (20). Its stain intensity was associated with tumor size and stage. The sensitivity and specificity of HSP70 in detecting HCC was 57.5 and 85%, respectively (21, 22).
3.1. Transforming Growth Factor-β1 (TGF-β1)
TGF-β1 is a growth factor involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and immune function. It is expressed in tumor cells. It can inhibit the proliferation of Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes (CTL) and promote the growth of tumor cells. Furthermore, TGF-β1 may be used as an indicator to diagnose HCC related to HBV with sensitivity and specificity of 89.5 and 94.0%, respectively (23-25).
3.2. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
VEGF has a vital role in tumor angiogenesis. It can induce new vessel formation and promote tumor metastasis. The level of VEGF is higher in HCC patients than healthy individuals. It has been revealed that the expression of VEGF is correlated with tumor prognosis and recurrence. It seems that overexpression of VEGF is a useful biological marker of tumors (26, 27).
4. Genetic Biomarkers
4.1. Alpha-Fetoprotein mRNA
This is a marker for spreading of HCC in the blood in active HCC cells. It is a predictor for HCC recurrence and has a positive rate of 82.4% in recrudescent patients (14).
These are non-coding RNAs that block translation by inducing the degradation of target mRNAs. MiR-500 is a new biomarker for HCC. It could downregulate liver development and then upregulate cirrhosis (28). Thus, MiR-500 is a promising biomarker of HCC.
5. Enzymes and Isozymes
5.1. Des-γ-Carboxyprothrombin (DCP)
DCP is induced by the absence of vitamin K. Vitamin K-dependent carboxylation system fails and causes the production of DCP in malignant liver cells. Its level is associated with a larger tumor. It is an accurate tumor marker compared with AFP (29, 30).
5.2. Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase (GGT)
This enzyme is secreted by endothelial cells of the bile duct and hepatic Kupffer cells. Its activity increases in HCC tumors. In addition, cholestasis and inflammation can improve the level of GGT. Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase mRNA is widely distributed in liver tissues of HCC patients. Therefore, GGT can be a biomarker for diagnosis of HCC.
5.3. Glutamine Synthetase (GS)
GS induces the synthesis of glutamine. Glutamine is an important energy source for tumor cells. The level of GS increases in patients with precancerous lesions, which can change to advanced-HCC. It has been reported that GS is a new target in development of HCC (specificity 89%; sensitivity 100%) (31, 32).
6. New Discoveries
6.1. Hepatocyte Paraffin 1 (HepPar 1)
This antigen can differentiate between normal and malignant hepatocytes. It is expressed in normal human liver cells. Decreasing expression of HepPar 1 is seen in HCC. It seems that reduction of HepPar 1-positive cells is associated with HCC (33). Therefore, HepPar 1 can be considered as a new valuable marker for the diagnosis of HCC.
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