Limitations of Nerve Fiber Density as a Prognostic Marker in Predicting Oncological Outcomes in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Jan Bednarsch, Xiuxiang Tan, Zoltan Czigany, Georg Wiltberger, Roman David Buelow, Peter Boor, Sven Arke Lang, Tom Florian Ulmer, Ulf Peter Neumann, Lara Rosaline Heij*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It has been shown that the presence and density of nerve fibers (NFs; NFD) in the tumor microenvironment (TME) may play an important prognostic role in predicting long-term oncological outcomes in various malignancies. However, the role of NFD in the prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is yet to be explored. To this end, we aimed to investigate the impact of NFs on oncological outcomes in a large European single-center cohort of HCC patients. In total, 153 HCC patients who underwent partial hepatectomy in a curative-intent setting between 2010 and 2021 at our university hospital were included in this study. Group comparisons between patients with and without NFs were conducted and the association of recurrence-free survival (RFS) and overall survival (OS) with the presence of NFs and other clinico-pathological variables were determined by univariate and multivariable Cox regression models. Patients with NFs in the TME presented with a median OS of 66 months (95% CI: 30-102) compared to 42 months (95% CI: 20-63) for patients without NFs (p = 0.804 log-rank). Further, RFS was 26 months (95% CI: 12-40) for patients with NFs compared to 18 months (95% CI: 9-27) for patients without NFs (p = 0.666 log-rank). In a subgroup analysis, patients with NFD ≤ 5 showed a median OS of 54 months (95% CI: 11-97) compared to 48 months (95% CI: 0-106) for the group of patients with NFD > 5 (p = 0.787 log-rank). Correspondingly, the RFS was 26 months (95% CI: 10-42) in patients with NFD ≤ 5 and 29 months (95% CI: 14-44) for the subcohort with NFD > 5 (p = 0.421 log-rank). Further, group comparisons showed no clinico-pathological differences between patients with NFs (n = 76) and without NFs (n = 77) and NFs were not associated with OS (p = 0.806) and RFS (p = 0.322) in our Cox regression models. In contrast to observations in various malignancies, NFs in the TME and NFD are not associated with long-term oncological outcomes in HCC patients undergoing surgery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2237
Number of pages16
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2022


  • biomarker
  • hepatocellular carcinoma
  • nerve fibers
  • oncological outcome
  • tumor microenvironment


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