Cathepsin protease expression in infiltrative soft tissue sarcomas: cathepsin-K correlates with infiltrative tumor growth and clinical outcomes

Tomohiro Fujiwara, Lingxin Zhang, Andrew Chandler, Shijun Sung, Mohamed Yakoub, Irina Linkov, Meera Hameed, John H. Healey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cathepsin proteases, activated in the lysosomes, are upregulated in many cancers. Intraoperative detection systems of microscopic residual tumor using cathepsin-mediated release of fluorescent nanoparticles may guide surgical excisions to improve local control. We sought to define the genetic and proteomic expression of cathepsins and their clinicopathological correlates in myxofibrosarcoma and undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (UPS)—soft tissue sarcomas with high rates of positive resection margins and local recurrence—and to establish a cellular justification for cathepsin-dependent systems to identify residual cancer in the resection bed. Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis of 58 fresh-frozen tumor specimens revealed that 56 (97%) had elevated mRNA expression of ≥1 cathepsin, including cathepsin-B (79%), cathepsin-K (59%), cathepsin-L (71%), and -S (71%). Immunohistochemical analysis of these fresh-frozen specimens revealed that 98% of tumors were positive for one or more of cathepsin-B (85%), cathepsin-K (50%), cathepsin-L (63%), and -S (10%). Strong cathepsin-K expression was associated with greater risks of local recurrence (hazard ratio, 3.78; p = 0.044) and disease-specific mortality (hazard ratio, 3.70; p = 0.025). Immunohistochemical analysis of 33 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded block samples revealed that 97% were positive for cathepsin-B (88%), cathepsin-K (76%), cathepsin-L (52%), or -S (52%) at the tumor periphery; cathepsin-K positivity correlated with a radiographic tail-like sign (p = 0.004) and microscopic infiltrative growth (p = 0.020). We conclude that cathepsins are broadly overexpressed in myxofibrosarcoma and UPS, and cathepsin-K may be an immunohistochemical marker of local infiltration and poorer prognosis that could be used to guide precision surgery.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Pathology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Cathepsin
  • Infiltrative behavior
  • Myxofibrosarcoma
  • Prognosis
  • Soft tissue sarcoma
  • Undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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