Tumor-associated hyaluronic acid: a new sensitive and specific urine marker for bladder cancer.


Hyaluronic acid (HA), a glycosaminoglycan, is known to promote tumor cell adhesion and migration, and its small fragments stimulate angiogenesis. We compared levels of HA in the urine of normal individuals and patients with bladder cancer or other genitourinary conditions, using a sensitive ELISA-like assay. Among the 144 specimens analyzed, the urinary HA levels of bladder cancer patients with G1 (255 +/- 41.7 ng/mg), G2 (291.8 +/- 68.3 ng/mg) and G3 (428.4 +/- 67 ng/mg) tumors are 4-9-fold elevated as compared to those of normal individuals (44.7 +/- 6.2 ng/mg) and patients with other genitourinary conditions (69.5 +/- 6.8 ng/mg; P < 0.001). Urinary HA measurement by the ELISA-like assay shows a sensitivity of 91.9% and specificity of 92.8% to detect bladder cancer. Thus, urinary HA measurement is a simple, noninvasive yet highly sensitive and specific method for bladder cancer detection. The increase in urinary HA concentration is a direct correlate of the elevated tumor-associated HA levels, because the HA levels are also elevated (3-5-fold) in bladder tumor tissues (P < 0.001). The profiles of urinary HA species of normal individuals and bladder cancer patients are different. Although only the intermediate-size HA species are found in the urine of normal and low-grade bladder tumor patients, the urine of high-grade bladder cancer patients contains both the high molecular mass and the small angiogenic HA fragments. These urinary HA fragments stimulate a mitogenic response (2.4-fold) in primary human microvessel endothelial cells, suggesting that the small HA fragments may regulate tumor angiogenesis by modulating endothelial cell functions.