Open Access

The prognostic role of the cancer stem cell marker CD44 in ovarian cancer: a meta-analysis

Cancer Cell International201717:8

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12935-016-0376-4

Received: 13 July 2016

Accepted: 26 December 2016

Published: 5 January 2017

Abstract

Background

CD44 has recently been reported as a cancer stem cell marker in ovarian cancer. However, the clinicopathological and prognostic value of this marker in ovarian cancer remains controversial; Here, we aimed to investigate the correlation between CD44 expression and the clinicopathological features or survival of ovarian cancer patients.

Methods

An extensive literature search in the PubMed, EMBASE, and Wanfang databases (up to June 1, 2016) was conducted to identify studies that assessed the clinical or prognostic significance of CD44 expression in ovarian cancer. A meta-analysis was then performed to clarify the association between CD44 expression and clinical outcomes of ovarian cancer patients.

Results

A total of 18 publications consisting of 2161 patients were included for this meta-analysis. Our data reveal that CD44-positive expression in ovarian cancers were significantly associated with a high TMN stage (pooled OR = 2.11, 95% CI 1.26–3.53, P = 0.004) and poor 5-year overall survival (RR = 1.42, 95% CI 1.01–2.00, P = 0.05). However, CD44 expression was not associated with tumor grade, lymphatic metastasis, age of the patients, residual tumor size, response to chemotherapy, or ascites volume (P > 0.05).

Conclusion

Detection of CD44 may be an effective tool for pathological diagnosis and prognostic prediction of ovarian cancer patients in clinical applications.

Keywords

Ovarian cancer Cancer stem cells CD44 Prognosis

Background

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic malignancy [1]. Although most ovarian cancer patients initially respond very well to platinum-based chemotherapy, the vast majority of patients will ultimately develop cancer recurrence and succumb to chemo-resistant disease [1].

CSCs represent a subpopulation of cancer cells that possess tumor initiation and self-renewal capacity and have been implicated in driving tumor growth, metastasis, and relapse following therapy in a wide variety of human cancers such as breast and ovarian cancers [2, 3]. In recent years, CSCs have also been found to contribute to the poor clinical outcome of ovarian cancer patients [4]. Furthermore, it has been suggested that CSC markers, such as CD44, ALDH1 and CD133, may serve as valuable prognostic indicators for ovarian cancer [4, 5]. Among these CSC markers, CD44 is the most frequently reported in ovarian cancer. Several studies have demonstrated that CD44 can be used to isolate cancer cells with stem cell-like and cancer-initiating properties from other populations of cancer cells [68].

CD44, which consists of four functional domains, plays important roles in cell–matrix adhesion, signal transduction, cytoskeletal rearrangement, and cell migration [9]. Intriguingly, the proximal extracellular domain is the site for alternative splicing of the CD44 mRNA that results in various isoforms of CD44. The CD44 standard form (CD44s) and CD44 variants (CD44v) participate in cell–cell and cell–matrix interactions, cell migration, lymphocytehoming, and tumorigenesis. CD44v6 has particularly gained a lot of attention in recent years, since the expression of this variant has been found to be upregulated in a variety of epithelial malignancies, such as head and neck, colon, endometrium and ovarian cancers. CD44v6 may be implicated in the activation of PI3K/Akt and MAPK pathways, which can then inhibit apoptosis and promote invasion and metastasis of cancer cells [1014].

Although the association between the expression of CD44 or its isoforms and the survival of patients with ovarian cancer has been well investigated, the prognostic values of CD44, CD44s, and CD44v6 in predicting the survival of patients with ovarian cancer remains controversial [1519]. In the present study, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of the published literature to examine the association of the expression of CD44 or its isoforms with the clinicopathological features and the prognosis of ovarian cancer patients. These findings may help to uncover valuable marker that may enable the prognostic stratification of ovarian cancer patients and guide the management of these patients in the future.

Methods

Search strategy

The electronic databases, including Pubmed, Embase, and Wanfang, were searched for studies that investigated the correlation of the CD44 expression and clinicopathological parameters and prognosis in ovarian cancer patients. The literature search was updated until June 1, 2016. The search terms were used as follows: “CD44”, “ovarian neoplasms” or “ovary neoplasms” or “ovarian cancer” or “cancer of ovary”. Review articles and the citations from all the retrieved reports were further manually reviewed to identify other relevant publications. The titles and abstracts of identified reports were examined to exclude any irrelevant publications. The full-text of the remaining articles were further inspected to determine whether they reported the correlation of the expression of CD44 or its isoforms and the clinicopathological features and prognosis of ovarian cancer patients.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

The studies included for this meta-analysis met the following criteria: (1) Definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer was made on the basis of histopathological findings; (2) Studies that examined the protein expression of CD44, CD44s, or CD44v6 in ovarian tissues instead of that in the serum or any other types of specimen; (3) studies that investigated the correlation of the expression of CD44, CD44s, or CD44v6 with clinicopathological features; (4) studies that reported the association of the expression of CD44 or its isoforms with overall survival (OS) of ovarian cancer patients. There was no limitation on the minimum number of patients in each study. When there were multiple articles by the same group based on similar patient populations, only the largest or the most recent article was included. The exclusion criteria for this meta-analysis include: (a) Studies were not associated with the topic of interest; (b) researchers did not make the definitive diagnosis based on histopathologic findings or they did not carried out clinical and imaging follow-up for at least 6 months; (c) studies associated with other diseases (d); non-original articles; (e) data could not be extracted; and (f) duplicate data from the same or similar patient population.

Data extraction

The following information was extracted from the retrieved full-text papers: lead author, country of the patients, ethnicity, publication year, time of sample collection, the pathological stages of tumors, number of patients, types of research techniques, the ages of the patients, and the choice of cut-off scores for the definition of positive staining or staining intensity. The included studies can be divided into two major groups based on the research objectives of these studies. One group evaluated the correlation between the expression of CD44, CD44s, or CD44v6 and the clinicopathological parameters, including TMN stage, tumor grade, lymphatic metastasis, age of the patients, residual tumor size, responses to chemotherapy, and ascites volume. The other group investigated the association between the expression of CD44, CD44s, or CD44v6 and the OS or disease-free survival (DFS).

Statistical analysis

The meta-analysis was performed as previously described [20]. Odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence interval (CI) were employed to evaluate the association between the expression of CD44, CD44s, or CD44v6 and the clinicopathological features for the patients with ovarian cancer, including TMN stage, tumor grade, lymphatic metastasis, age of the patients, residual tumor size, responses to chemotherapy, and ascites volume. By contrast, the risk ratio (RR) was used for assessing the correlation of the expression of CD44, CD44s, or CD44v6 and the OS or DFS. If RRs were not reported directly in the published articles, the data from those papers were then used to calculate the RR according to the methods described by Parmar et al. [21]. Heterogeneity across studies was evaluated with the Q test and P values. ORs and RRs were calculated using a random-effects model when the P value was less than 0.05. Otherwise, a fixed-effects model was applied. The Begg’s funnel plot and Egger’s test were used to assess publication bias. All statistical analyses were carried out using Review manager software (Revman version 5.3.5.). The difference will be considered statistically significant when two-sided P values are less than 0.05.

Results

Characteristics of the included studies

A total of 451 articles were originally identified for the meta-analysis after searching the electronic databases PubMed, Embase, and Wanfang. 421 reports were excluded after closely reviewing the titles and abstracts. Eventually, the extensive review of the full-text articles yielded a total of 18 studies consisting of 2161 patients that met the inclusion criteria for this meta-analysis [1519, 2234] (Fig. 1). The main characteristics of the eligible studies are summarized in Table 1. Among the included studies, 17 articles assessed the correlation between the expression of CD44 or its isoforms and the clinicopathological features of ovarian cancer, whereas the association of CD44 expression with OS or DFS was examined using the Kaplan–Meier method in 12 of these studies.
Fig. 1

The flow diagram of article selection

Table 1

Characteristics of the included studies

Study

Patient’s country

Ethnicity

Year

Time of collection

Pathological stage

Number of patients

Age in years

Follow-up months

Cut-off for CD44 positive (% staining)

Survival analysis

Subtypes of the CD44 family

Method

Ross et al.

USA

Caucasian

2001

1991–1995

I–IV

101

30–85

70

>10

OS

CD44s

IHC

Cho et al.

Korea

Asian

2006

ND

I–III

158

ND

112

>50

OS

CD44s

IHC

Zhang et al.

China

Asian

2013

1990–2007

I–IV

483

22–89

120

>25

OS; DFS

CD44s

IHC

Zhong et al.

China

Asian

2001

1993–1996

I–IV

55

ND

ND

>10

ND

CD44v6

IHC

Rodríguez et al.

USA

Caucasian

2003

1990–1996

I–IV

142

ND

50

>50

OS; DFS

CD44v6

IHC

Hong et al.

Korea

Asian

2006

1997–2004

I–IV

65

25–74

ND

>10

ND

CD44v6

IHC

Xu et al.

China

Asian

2009

2005–2008

I–IV

63

26–80

ND

>5

ND

CD44v6

IHC

Shi et al.

China

Asian

2013

2010–2011

I–III

45

ND

ND

>25

ND

CD44v6

IHC

Tjhay et al.

Japen

Asian

2015

2002–2012

ND

59

37–82

140

>10

OS

CD44v6

IHC

Sillanpaa et al.

Finland

Caucasian

2003

1976–1992

I–IV

445

ND

237

>10

OS; DFS

CD44

IHC

Chen et al.

China

Asian

2009

2001–2007

I–IV

120

40–70

56

>25

DFS

CD44

IHC

Jiang et al.

China

Asian

2010

2007–2008

I–IV

33

33–74

ND

>50

ND

CD44

IHC

Gao et al.

USA

Caucasian

2015

ND

I–IV

26

ND

150

>25

OS; DFS

CD44

IHC

Steffensen et al.

Denmark

Caucasian

2011

ND

I–IV

109

32–79

40

>20

ND

CD44

IHC

Liu et al.

USA

Caucasian

2012

2006–2007

I–IV

33

44–86

60

>5

OS

CD44

IHC

Li et al.

China

Asian

2012

2007–2008

I–IV

46

ND

ND

>10

ND

CD44

IHC

Wang et al.

China

Asian

2015

2006–2012

I–IV

86

29–73

94

>50

OS

CD44

IHC

Zhu et al.

USA

Caucasian

2015

2006–2010

I–IV

92

24–78

84

>25

OS

CD44

IHC

IHC immunohistochemistry, OS overall survival, DFS disease-free survival, ND not document

The correlation of CD44v6 expression with clinicopathological parameters

Notably, our analysis based on the random-effect model reveals that the expression of CD44v6 in ovarian cancers is significantly associated with a high TMN stage (pooled OR = 2.11, 95% CI 1.26–3.53, P = 0.004) (Fig. 2). However, there is no significant correlation between CD44 expression and tumor grade (pooled OR = 2.08, 95% CI 0.91–4.74, P = 0.08, random-effect model) (Fig. 3), lymphatic metastasis (pooled OR = 1.76, 95% CI 0.78–3.95, P = 0.17, random-effect model) (Fig. 4), age of the patients (pooled OR = 1.60, 95% CI 0.58–1.93, P = 0.84, fixed-effect model) (Fig. 5), residual tumor size (pooled OR = 1.01, 95% CI 0.30–3.40, P = 0.99, random-effect model) (Fig. 6), response to chemotherapy (pooled OR = 2.71, 95% CI 0.90–8.22, P = 0.08, random-effect model) (Fig. 7), or ascites volume (pooled OR = 1.61, 95% CI 0.66–3.94, P = 0.29, random-effect model) (Fig. 8).
Fig. 2

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and TMN stage

Fig. 3

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and tumor grade

Fig. 4

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and lymphatic metastasis

Fig. 5

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and age of the patients

Fig. 6

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and residual tumor size

Fig. 7

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and response to chemotherapy

Fig. 8

Forest plot depiction of CD44 expression and ascites volume l(G)

The correlation between CD44 expression and the prognosis of ovarian cancer

Next, we analyzed the impact of CD44 expression on the survival of ovarian cancer patients. As shown in Fig. 3, our meta-analysis of the pooled data from the ten studies showed that CD44 expression is significantly associated with a poor 5-year OS (RR = 1.42, 95% CI 1.01–2.00, P = 0.05) (Fig. 9). Nevertheless, CD44 expression is not significantly correlated with DFS (RR = 1.23, 95% CI 0.86–1.77, P < 0.25) (Fig. 10).
Fig. 9

Forest plot illustrates the association between CD44 expression and OS of ovarian cancer

Fig. 10

Forest plot illustrates the association between CD44 expression and DFS of ovarian cancer

Sensitivity analysis

In order to rule out a bias introduced by the low numbers of eligible publications for our meta-analysis, we then performed a sensitivity analysis. For this purpose, an individual study included in the meta-analysis was removed for each round of analysis to investigate the influence of the single dataset of the particular study on the pooled ORs. Our data suggest that the corresponding pooled ORs were not significantly altered by the removal of any study (data not shown), indicating that our results are statistically robust.

Publication bias

Next we evaluated the publication bias regarding our meta-analysis using Begg’s funnel plot and Egger’s test. The Begg’s funnel plots of the meta-analyses of the correlation between CD44 expression and the clinicopathological parameters and 5-year OS or DFS did not show an evident asymmetrical shape. Consistently, the results of Egger’s test also rule out publication bias involving our meta-analysis (Table 2).
Table 2

Egger’s test of funnel plot asymmetry

Clinicopathological parameters

t value

df

P value

Tumor differentiation

1.78

12

0.484

Tumor TNM stage

1.08

16

0.714

Primary residual tumor

0.66

3

0.997

Response to chemotherapy

3.42

3

0.174

Age

6.15

4

0.142

Lymphatic metastasis

2.97

5

0.243

Histology

0.66

8

0.322

Ascites

0.67

4

0.327

Overall survival

2.26

11

0.531

Disease free survival

0.21

4

1.000

df deflection

Discussion

It has been hypothesized that the formation and progression of cancers are driven by CSCs which represent a minor population in cancer cells [35]. More importantly, CSCs are considered to be responsible for chemotherapy resistance, metastasis, and postoperative recurrence [36]. A significant fraction of ovarian cancer patients will ultimately develop cancer recurrence and succumb to chemo-resistant disease [37]. Furthermore, to date, there are still no reliable markers available for the diagnosis and prognosis of ovarian cancer patients. Therefore, it remains urgent to search for a reliable prognostic parameter applicable in clinical practice to predict disease outcomes in ovarian cancer. CD44 is an important cell surface marker for isolating CSCs from tumors and is correlate with poor prognosis in various human cancers [7, 3840]. Intriguingly, in this study, we found that the expression of CD44v6 in ovarian cancers is significantly associated with a high TMN stage. Moreover, our findings revealed that CD44 expression is inversely correlated with a poor 5-year OS. However,we find no significant association between CD44 positivity and tumor grade, lymphatic metastasis, age of the patients, residual tumor size, response to chemotherapy, or ascites volume. These data indicate that CD44 expression may be used in the pathological evaluation of tissue histology to predict ovarian cancer prognosis in the future.

CD44 was identified as a surface glycoprotein and a lymphocyte homing receptor found on lymphoid and epithelial cells in 1982 [41]. Its main function on lymphocytes is mediating interaction with the endothelium [42]. Substantial evidence indicates that CD44 has been implicated in cancer invasion and metastasis. CD44v6, one of the major variants of CD44, could modulate the conjugation of CD44s and hyaluronic acid (HA), or enhance the metastasis of tumor by conjugating with HA [43]. CD44 plays an essential role in epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT), one of the most important events in the cancer invasion process [44, 45]. Consistently, in some epithelial cells, the EMT process was accompanied by CD44 isoform switch from CD44v6 to CD44s, and CD44s has been proved to promote the EMT process [46]. Moreover, CD44 also plays a critical role in cell migration. After activated by its binding to hyaluronan, the cytoplasmic tail of CD44 in turn bind to the actin cytoskeleton and it would be translocated to the leading edge of the migrating cells. Thereafter, CD44 binds to CD62 on the endothelial cells, enabling the migrating cells to roll on the endothelia cells, which is the initial step of cell migration named extravasation [47]. Because of the important role that CD44 plays in cancer invasion and metastasis, it has been suggested that the expression of CD44 or certain CD44 variants could serve as valuable candidates for early detection, or as a prognostic predictor for gynecologic malignancies. Although some studies reported that high levels of CD44 expression was associated with a poor prognosis in ovarian cancer patients [17, 28], On the contrary, other groups concluded that CD44 expression had no influence on the survival of patients with ovarian cancer [15, 27]. This inconsistency may result from small sample size in each individual study. Here, we summarized the pooled data from these studies to increase the statistical power and better evaluate the prognostic values of the expression status of CD44 and its variants in ovarian cancer. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis of published data to evaluate the association between CD44 expression and prognosis in ovarian cancer.

It is important to note that there may be some potential limitations regarding our meta-analysis. First, variation in definitions of clinical outcomes, measurements and experimental procedures might contribute to between-study heterogeneity. It is particularly difficult to address the issue of variations in the definitions of clinical outcomes among different studies. Second, potential publication bias may also be a concern. We restricted our review to articles published in English or Chinese language because other languages were not accessible to the readers, which could favor the positive data that are more often published in English while the negative ones tend to be more often reported in other native languages.

Conclusion

Our findings demonstrate that CD44 expression is associated with a higher tumor TNM stage among ovarian cancer patients. Moreover, ovarian cancer patients with positive CD44 expression exhibit a worse clinical outcome than those with negative CD44 expression. Further studies with larger sample sizes will be warranted to validate the findings of our meta-analysis in the future.

Abbreviations

IHC: 

immunohistochemistry

OS: 

overall survival

DFS: 

disease-free survival

ND: 

not document

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

LJ drafted the manuscript and took responsibility for data acquisition. DD did the statistical analysis and was responsible for manuscript preparation. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

This research was supported in part by Grants 81401183 (DD) from the National Science Foundation of China, and Grant 11ZR1404100 (DD) from the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission, Shanghai Key Laboratory of Female Reproductive Endocrine-Related Diseases.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Funding

This research was supported in part by Grants 81401183 (DD) from the National Science Foundation of China, and Grant 11ZR1404100 (DD) from the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission, Shanghai Key Laboratory of Female Reproductive Endocrine-Related Diseases.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Assisted Reproduction, Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
(2)
Department of Gynecology, Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, Fudan University

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