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Hörmann, Rudolf; Gerbes, Alexander L.; Spöttl, Gerald; Jüngst, Dieter and Mann, Klaus (1992): Immunoreactive human chorionic gonadotropin and its free ß-subunit in serum and ascites of patients with malignant tumors. In: Cancer research, Vol. 52: pp. 1520-1524 [PDF, 1MB]

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Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a clinically relevant marker of trophoblastic and nontrophoblastic malignancies. In the present studies, in addition to determining serum hCG, we investigated the presence and properties of hCG immunoreactivity in ascites of patients with nontrophoblastic malignant tumors and, for comparison, in ascites caused by cirrhotic liver disease. Total hCG immunoreactivity [hCG (+hCG-ß)] was found to be elevated above the reference value (>5 IU/liter) in the serum of 2 of 20 patients with cirrhosis and 11 of 20 patients with malignant tumors. For comparison, in ascites, hCG (+hCG-ß) concentrations were frequently higher than in the corresponding serum samples and exceeded 10 IU/liter in 0 of 20 cirrhotic samples and in 16 of 20 malignant samples.

In order to elucidate the nature of the hCG immunoreactive material, all samples were then assessed by immunoradiometric assays specific for the intact hCG molecule (holo-hCG) and the free hCG-ß subunit, respectively. In the holo-hCG assay, elevated values were detected in 0 of 20 (0 of 20) cirrhotic ascites (serum) samples and 0 of 20 (1 of 20) malignant ascites (serum) samples. In the free hCG-ß assay, on the other hand, no positive results were obtained in the ascites or serum of 20 patients with liver cirrhosis; however, 8 of 20 serum samples and 16 of 20 ascites samples derived from tumor patients were positive. In accord with the immunological data, gel chromatographical studies of malignant ascites revealed the abundance of free hCG-ß subunit rather than that of holo-hCG. In contrast to malignancy-related ascites, in ascites of patients receiving hCG injections for treatment of infertility, holo-hCG was more abundant than free hCG-ß immunoreactivity. Incubation experiments of purified holo-hCG in ascites for 24 h at -20, 20, or 37°C showed no substantial dissociation of the hCG molecule and release of free hCG-ß immunoreactivity, thus arguing against production of free hCG-ß by degradation of holo-hCG and in favor of its tumor-related secretion.

In conclusion, hCG-ß immunoreactivity is frequently elevated in malignancy-related ascites and appears to be related to the presence of free ß subunit of hCG rather than that of the intact hCG molecule. Interestingly, hCG-ß determination in ascites proved to be clearly superior to serum measurement in discriminating between tumor and cirrhosis. Thus, hCG-ß might be a useful marker of malignancy-related ascites and should be prospectively assessed for possible clinical use in comparison with other well-established parameters, such as cytology and protein determination. For this purpose, according to our results, only assays that exhibit a high sensitivity for free hCG-ß subunit appear to be suitable.

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