Serum peptidome patterns that distinguish metastatic thyroid carcinoma from cancer-free controls are unbiased by gender and age
Serum peptidomics is a special form of functional proteomics. The small number of blood proteins that are the source of most prominent peptides in human serum serve as a substrate pool for commonly occurring and/or cancer-derived proteases. Exoprotease activities in particular, when superimposed on the ex vivo coagulation and complement degradation pathways, contribute to generation of not only cancer-specific but also "cancer type"-specific serum peptides. Following development of a unique, semiautomated serum peptide profiling platform and after completing investigations to eliminate common experimental bias, we have now studied possible effects of gender and age on serum peptidomes of 200 healthy men and women, ages 20-80, and of 60 patients (30 men and 30 women) with metastatic thyroid carcinomas. Extensive MALDI-TOF MS and data analysis suggested negligible contributions of both age and gender to the serum peptidome patterns except that healthy men and women under 35 years, but not older individuals, could be distinguished with approximately 70% accuracy. Considering the more advanced age of most patients, this finding is unlikely to interfere with peptidomics analysis of most cancers. By examining patient samples and age/gender-matched controls followed by variability analysis of either demographic or disease (versus control) groups, we could conclusively rule out demographic bias. An optimized, 12-peptide ion thyroid cancer signature was then developed, enabling classification of an independent validation set with 95% sensitivity and 95% specificity (binomial confidence intervals, 75.1-99.9%). Ten of these peptides had previously been assigned to signature patterns of other solid tumor cancers. One of the two newly discovered peptides was dehydro-Ala(3)-fibrinopeptide A. As we expand this study to include hundreds of thyroid cancer patients, the peptide signature will be adjusted, further validated, and then evaluated in a clinical setting used either independently or in combination with existing markers.