Background In lung cancer, uPA, its receptor (uPAR), and the inhibitors PAI-1 and PAI-2 of the plasminogen activator family interact with MMP-2 and MMP-9 of the MMP family to promote cancer progression. However, it remains undetermined which of these markers plays the most important role and may be the most useful indicator to stratify the patients by risk. Methods We determined the individual prognostic value of these 6 markers by analyzing a derivation cohort with 98 non-small cell lung cancer patients by immunohistochemical staining. The correlation between the IHC expression levels of these markers and disease prognosis was investigated, and an immunohistochemical panel for prognostic prediction was subsequently generated through prognostic model analysis. The value of the immunohistochemical panel was then verified by a validation cohort with 91 lung cancer patients. Results In derivation cohort, PAI-2 is the most powerful prognostic factor (HR = 2.30; P = 0.001), followed by MMP-9 (HR = 2.09; P = 0.019) according to multivariate analysis. When combining PAI-2 and MMP-9, the most unfavorable prognostic group (low PAI-2 and high MMP-9 IHC expression levels) showed a 6.40-fold increased risk of a poor prognosis compared to the most favorable prognostic group (high PAI-2 and low MMP-9 IHC expression levels). PAI-2 and MMP-9 IHC panel could more precisely identify high risk patients in both derivation and validation cohort. Conclusions We revealed PAI-2 as the most powerful prognostic marker among PA and MMP protease family even after considering their close relationships with each other. By utilizing a combination of PAI-2 and MMP-9, more precise prognostic information than merely using pathological stage alone can be obtained for lung cancer patients.
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