Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most prevalent cancer type worldwide with a mortality rate of approximately 50%. Elevated cell-surface expression of truncated carbohydrate structures such as Tn antigen (GalNAca-Ser/Thr) is frequently observed during tumor progression. We have previously demonstrated that the C-type lectin macrophage galactose-type lectin (MGL), expressed by human antigen presenting cells, can distinguish healthy tissue from CRC through its specific recognition of Tn antigen. Both MGL binding and oncogenic BRAF mutations have been implicated in establishing an immunosuppressive microenvironment. Here we aimed to evaluate whether MGL ligand expression has prognostic value and whether this was correlated to BRAFV600E mutation status. Using a cohort of 386 colon cancer patients we demonstrate that high MGL binding to stage III tumors is associated with poor disease-free survival, independent of microsatellite instability or adjuvant chemotherapy. In vitro studies using CRC cell lines showed an association between MGL ligand expression and the presence of BRAFV600E. Administration of specific BRAFV600E inhibitors resulted in decreased expression of MGL-binding glycans. Moreover, a positive correlation between induction of BRAFV600E and MGL binding to epithelial cells of the gastrointestinal tract was found in vivo using an inducible BRAFV600E mouse model. We conclude that the BRAFV600E mutation induces MGL ligand expression, thereby providing a direct link between oncogenic transformation and aberrant expression of immunosuppressive glycans. The strong prognostic value of MGL ligands in stage III colon cancer patients, i.e. when tumor cells disseminate to lymph nodes, further supports the putative immune evasive role of MGL ligands in metastatic disease.

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Department of Surgery

Lenos, K., Goos, J. A. C. M., Vuist, I. M., den Uil, S. H., Delis-van Diemen, P. M., Belt, E., … van Vliet, S. (2015). MGL ligand expression is correlated to BRAF mutation and associated with poor survival of stage III colon cancer patients. Oncotarget, 6(28), 26278–26290. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.4495