Shedding of membrane gangliosides is characteristic of human and experimental tumors. Because some shed tumor gangliosides have potent tumor-enhancing properties, significant ganglioside shedding could influence tumor progression. We examined this possibility in a human tumor, neuroblastoma. Ganglioside shedding, measured as circulating tumor-derived GD2 ganglioside, and the outcome of 74 patients with advanced stage (III and IV) disease were studied. Progression-free survival (PFS) was inversely related to circulating GD2 levels at the time of diagnosis (P = .018). By Kaplan-Meier analysis, the quartile of patients having the highest circulating GD2 levels (greater than or equal to 568 pmol/mL) had a strikingly different outcome from the quartile of patients with the lowest (less than or equal to 103 pmol/mL) GD2 levels (P = .013): median PFS was shorter (9 v 28 months), and the long-term survival rate lower (2-year PFS of 24% v 70%). We conclude that more rapid disease progression and lower survival rate are associated with high circulating GD2 levels at diagnosis and speculate that shed neuroblastoma tumor gangliosides play a role in accelerating tumor progression.

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