Prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) is a validated target for molecular diagnostics and targeted radionuclide therapy. Our purpose was to evaluate PSMA expression in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), and hepatic adenoma (HCA); investigate the genetic pathways in HCC associated with PSMA expression; and evaluate HCC detection rate with 68Ga-PSMA-11 positron emission tomography (PET). In phase 1, PSMA immunohistochemistry (IHC) on HCC (n = 148), CCA (n = 111), and HCA (n = 78) was scored. In a subset (n = 30), messenger RNA (mRNA) data from the Cancer Genome Atlas HCC RNA sequencing were correlated with PSMA expression. In phase 2, 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET was prospectively performed in patients with treatment-naïve HCC on a digital PET scanner using cyclotron-produced 68Ga. Uptake was graded qualitatively and semi-quantitatively using standard metrics. On IHC, PSMA expression was significantly higher in HCC compared with CCA and HCA (P < 0.0001); 91% of HCCs (n = 134) expressed PSMA, which principally localized to tumor-associated neovasculature. Higher tumor grade was associated with PSMA expression (P = 0.012) but there was no association with tumor size (P = 0.14), fibrosis (P = 0.35), cirrhosis (P = 0.74), hepatitis B virus (P = 0.31), or hepatitis C virus (P = 0.15). Overall survival tended to be longer in patients without versus with PSMA expression (median overall survival: 4.2 vs. 1.9 years; P = 0.273). FGF14 (fibroblast growth factor 14) mRNA expression correlated positively (rho = 0.70; P = 1.70 × 10-5) and MAD1L1 (Mitotic spindle assembly checkpoint protein MAD1) correlated negatively with PSMA expression (rho = −0.753; P = 1.58 × 10-6). Of the 190 patients who met the eligibility criteria, 31 patients with 39 HCC lesions completed PET; 64% (n = 25) lesions had pronounced 68Ga-PSMA-11 standardized uptake value: SUVmax (median [range] 9.2 [4.9-28.4]), SUVmean 4.7 (2.4-12.7), and tumor-to-liver background ratio 2 (1.1-11). Conclusion: Ex vivo expression of PSMA in neovasculature of HCC translates to marked tumor avidity on 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET, which suggests that PSMA has the potential as a theranostic target in patients with HCC.
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