BACKGROUND: The early diagnosis of biliary tract cancer (BTC) remains challenging, and there are few effective therapies. This study investigated whether the M2 isotype of pyruvate kinase (M2-PK), which serves as the key regulator of cellular energy metabolism in proliferating cells, could play a role in the diagnosis and therapy of BTC. METHODS: Plasma and bile M2-PK concentrations were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in 88 patients with BTC, 79 with benign biliary diseases, and 17 healthy controls. M2-PK expression was assayed in a BTC tissue array by immunohistochemistry. The role of M2-PK in tumor growth, invasion, and angiogenesis was evaluated in BTC cell lines by retrovirus-mediated M2-PK transfection and short hairpin RNA silencing techniques. RESULTS: Sensitivity (90.3%) and specificity (84.3%) of bile M2-PK for malignancy were significantly higher than those for plasma M2-PK and serum carbohydrate antigen 19-9. M2-PK expression was specific for cancer cells and correlated with microvessel density. M2-PK positivity was a significant independent prognostic factor by multivariable analysis. Transfection of M2-PK in a negatively expressed cell line (HuCCT-1 cells) increased cell invasion, whereas silencing in an M2-PK-positive cell line (TFK cells) decreased tumor nodule formation and cellular invasion. A significant increase in endothelial tube formation was noted when supernatants from M2-PK-transfected cells were added to an in vitro angiogenesis assay, whereas supernatants from silenced cells negated endothelial tube formation. CONCLUSIONS: Bile M2-PK is a novel tumor marker for BTC and correlates with tumor aggressiveness and poor outcome. Short hairpin RNA-mediated inhibition of M2-PK indicates the potential of M2-PK as a therapeutic target. Cancer 2012. (c) 2012 American Cancer Society.