Combined hepato-cholangiocarcinomas (cHCC-CCA) belong to the spectrum of primary liver carcinomas, which include hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas (iCCA) at both ends of the spectrum. Mainly due to the high intratumor heterogeneity of cHCC-CCA, its diagnosis and pathological description remain challenging. Taking advantage of in situ non-targeted molecular mapping provided by MALDI (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization) imaging, we sought to develop a multiscale and multiparametric morphological approach, integrating molecular and conventional pathological analysis. MALDI imaging was applied to five representative cases of resected cHCC-CCA. Principal component analysis and segmentations with MALDI imaging techniques identified areas related to either iCCA or HCC and also hidden tumor areas not visible microscopically. In addition, the overlap between MALDI segmentation and immunostaining provided a comprehensive description of cHCC-CCA tumor heterogeneity by identifying transitional and micro-metastatic areas. Moreover, a list of peptides derived from in silico digestion was obtained for each immunohistochemical marker and was matched within the peptide peak list acquired by MALDI. Comparison of immunostaining images with ions from in silico digestion revealed an accurate identification of iCCA and HCC areas. Our study provides further evidence on the performance of MALDI imaging in exploring intratumor heterogeneity and offering virtual multiplex immunostaining through a single acquisition.

Here is the type of image and analysis obtained thanks to MALDI imaging:

Segmentation analysis overlaid with immunohistochemistry performed on successive slices from a hepatocholangiocarcinoma. (A) Pathological annotations indicating areas of cholangiocarcinoma (green), hepatocellular carcinoma (red), fibrosis within cholangiocarcinoma (blue), * MVI. (B) Segmentation analysis from MALDI imaging identifying 4 distinct. areas cholangiocarcinoma-related fibrosis (blue); HCC (red); iCCA (green); and fibrosis around cirrhotic nodules (yellow).