Activation of the Complement System in Patients with Cancer Cachexia

M. Deng, R.D.W. Vaes, A.A.J.H.M. van Bijnen, S.W.M.O. Damink, S.S. Rensen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Simple Summary: Patients with cancer often suffer from severe weight loss as a result of the wasting of skeletal muscle and fat tissue. This has a strong negative impact on the patient's prognosis and quality of life. Inflammation is thought to contribute to weight loss in cancer. To enable the future targeting of inflammation in patients with cancer who experience weight loss, we set out to characterize an important pro-inflammatory component of the immune system: the complement system. The blood levels of several elements of the complement system were analyzed in patients with and without weight loss and inflammation. We found that complement factors were activated specifically in patients with both weight loss and inflammation. Since complement inhibitory drugs are already on the market, these findings may open new opportunities for treating inflammation-mediated weight loss in patients with cancer.Systemic inflammation is thought to underlie many of the metabolic manifestations of cachexia in cancer patients. The complement system is an important component of innate immunity that has been shown to contribute to metabolic inflammation. We hypothesized that systemic inflammation in patients with cancer cachexia was associated with complement activation. Systemic C3a levels were higher in cachectic patients with inflammation (n = 23, C-reactive protein (CRP) & GE; 10 mg/L) as compared to patients without inflammation (n = 26, CRP < 10 mg/L) or without cachexia (n = 13) (medians 102.4 (IQR 89.4-158.0) vs. 81.4 (IQR 47.9-124.0) vs. 61.6 (IQR 46.8-86.8) ng/mL, respectively, p = 0.0186). Accordingly, terminal complement complex (TCC) concentrations gradually increased in these patient groups (medians 2298 (IQR 2022-3058) vs. 1939 (IQR 1725-2311) vs. 1805 (IQR 1552-2569) mAU/mL, respectively, p = 0.0511). C3a and TCC concentrations were strongly correlated (r(s) = 0.468, p = 0.0005). Although concentrations of C1q and mannose-binding lectin did not differ between groups, C1q levels were correlated with both C3a and TCC concentrations (r(s) = 0.394, p = 0.0042 and r(s) = 0.300, p = 0.0188, respectively). In conclusion, systemic inflammation in patients with cancer cachexia is associated with the activation of key effector complement factors. The correlations between C1q and C3a/TCC suggest that the classical complement pathway could play a role in complement activation in patients with pancreatic cancer.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5767
Number of pages13
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • cancer cachexia
  • complement system activation
  • inflammation
  • C3


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