BACKGROUND: Claudin-18 (CLDN18) is a highly specific tight junction protein of the gastric mucosa. An isoform of CLDN18, the Claudin 18.2, has recently emerged as an innovative drug target for metastatic gastric cancer.
METHODS: We investigated the immunohistochemical profile of CLDN18, p53, p16, E-cadherin, MSH2, MSH6, MLH1, PSM2, HER2, and PDL-1 in a large series of 523 primary gastric carcinomas (GCs; n = 408) and gastro-oesophageal carcinomas (GECs; n = 115) and 135 matched and synchronous nodal metastases. The status of HER2 and EBER by means of chromogenic in situ hybridisation (CISH) was also evaluated.
RESULTS: High membranous CLDN18 expression was present in 150/510 (29.4%) primary cases and in 45/132 (34.1%) metastases. An abnormal expression (i.e. nuclear and/or cytoplasmic) was observed in 115 (22.5%) primary cases and in 33 (25.0%) metastases. A 38.8% of the cases showed significant CLDN18 intratumoural variability among the different tissue microarray cores obtained from the same tumour. Positive membrane CLDN18 expression was statistically associated with non-antral GCs (p = 0.016), Lauren diffuse type (p = 0.009), and with EBV-associated cancers (p < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: CLDN18 is frequently expressed in gastric and gastro-oesophageal cancers; further studies should investigate the prognostic significance of CLDN18 heterogeneity in order to implement its test into clinical practice.