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J Clin Oncol. 1999 Aug;17(8):2419-28.

Nerve growth factor expression correlates with perineural invasion and pain in human pancreatic cancer.

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  • 1Department of Visceral and Transplantation Surgery and Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, Inselspital, Switzerland.



The reasons for the high frequency of perineural invasion and the presence of pain in pancreatic cancer are still not clear. Nerve growth factor (NGF) and its high-affinity receptor TrkA are involved in stimulating epithelial cancer cell growth and perineural invasion, as well as in pain generation in chronic benign disorders.


NGF and TrkA were examined by Northern blot analysis, in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry in 27 normal and 37 pancreatic cancer tissue samples. The molecular findings were correlated with the degree of perineural invasion, pain, and histopathologic tumor characteristics.


Northern blot analysis indicated that NGF and TrkA mRNA levels were increased 2.7-fold and 5.6-fold, respectively (P <.05 and P <.05), in pancreatic cancer tissues compared with the normal pancreas tissue. As shown by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, NGF was strongly present in the cytoplasm of pancreatic cancer cells. TrkA was intensely present in the perineurium of pancreatic nerves but not in the cancer cells. There was no difference in NGF and TrkA expression between early (stages I and II) and advanced (stage III) tumor stages and between well-/moderately differentiated (grades 1 and 2) and poorly differentiated (grade 3) tumors. However, tumors with high NGF/TrkA expression levels exhibited more frequent perineural invasion (P <.01). Furthermore, increased NGF/TrkA expression levels were associated with a higher degree of pain (P <. 01).


Enhanced expression of the NGF/TrkA system may influence perineural invasion and may contribute to the pain syndrome in human pancreatic cancer.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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