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Cancer Lett. 2004 Oct 8;214(1):1-9.

Determining tumor apoptosis and necrosis in patient serum using cytokeratin 18 as a biomarker.

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Department of Oncology and Pathology, Cancer Center Karolinska, Karolinska Institute and Hospital, S-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden.


Intracellular macromolecules are released from dying tumor cells and may subsequently be detected in patient blood. In this review, we will discuss the use of cytokeratin-18 as a serum biomarker for monitoring therapy-induced cell death. Cytokeratins are abundant intracellular proteins expressed by most types of carcinoma, but not by treatment-sensitive cells from bone marrow and other tissues. Release of cytokeratins into blood is therefore expected to show some specificity for tumor cell death. Cytokeratin-18 (CK18) is cleaved by caspases specifically during apoptosis, and the molecular form of this protein (caspase-cleaved vs. non-cleaved) released from dying tumor cells is therefore diagnostic as to the type of cell death (apoptosis vs. necrosis). Analyses of different CK18 forms in patient sera have suggested that tumor apoptosis may not necessarily be the dominating death mode in many tumors in vivo. Measurements of increased levels of CK18 in serum during therapy of prostate and breast cancer patients have been encouraging with regard to the possible future use of CK18 as a biomarker for monitoring therapy efficiency.

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