Heterogeneity of glycan biomarker clusters as an indicator of recurrence in pancreatic cancer.


Outcomes following tumor resection vary dramatically among patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). A challenge in defining predictive biomarkers is to discern within the complex tumor tissue the specific subpopulations and relationships that drive recurrence. Multiplexed immunofluorescence is valuable for such studies when supplied with markers of relevant subpopulations and analysis methods to sort out the intra-tumor relationships that are informative of tumor behavior. We hypothesized that the glycan biomarkers CA19-9 and STRA, which detect separate subpopulations of cancer cells, define intra-tumoral features associated with recurrence.

We probed this question using automated signal thresholding and spatial cluster analysis applied to the immunofluorescence images of the STRA and CA19-9 glycan biomarkers in whole-block sections of PDAC tumors collected from curative resections.

The tumors (N = 22) displayed extreme diversity between them in the amounts of the glycans and in the levels of spatial clustering, but neither the amounts nor the clusters of the individual and combined glycans associated with recurrence. The combined glycans, however, marked divergent types of spatial clusters, alternatively only STRA, only CA19-9, or both. The co-occurrence of more than one cluster type within a tumor associated significantly with disease recurrence, in contrast to the independent occurrence of each type of cluster. In addition, intra-tumoral regions with heterogeneity in biomarker clusters spatially aligned with pathology-confirmed cancer cells, whereas regions with homogeneous biomarker clusters aligned with various non-cancer cells.

Thus, the STRA and CA19-9 glycans are markers of distinct and co-occurring subpopulations of cancer cells that in combination are associated with recurrence. Furthermore, automated signal thresholding and spatial clustering provides a tool for quantifying intra-tumoral subpopulations that are informative of outcome.

  • Allen P
  • Braak S
  • Gao C
  • Haab BB
  • Klamer Z
  • Shi C
  • Wisniewski L
PubMed ID
Appears In
Front Oncol, 2023, 13