Molecular characterization of apocrine carcinoma of the breast: Validation of an apocrine protein signature in a well-defined cohort

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Abstract

Invasive apocrine carcinomas (IACs), as defined by morphological features, correspond to 0.3–4% of all invasive ductal carcinomas (IDC), and despite the fact that they are histologically distinct from other breast lesions there are currently no standard molecular criteria available for their diagnosis and no unequivocal information as to their prognosis. In an effort to address these concerns we have been using protein expression profiling technologies in combination with mass spectrometry and immunohistochemistry (IHC) to discover specific biomarkers that could allow us to molecularly characterize these lesions as well as to dissect some of the steps in the processes underlying breast apocrine metaplasia and development of precancerous apocrine lesions. Establishing these apocrine-specific markers as best practice for the routine pathology evaluation of breast cancer, however, will require their validation in large cohorts of patients. Towards this goal we have composed a panel of antibodies against components of an apocrine protein signature that includes probes against the apocrine-specific markers 15-prostaglandin dehydrogenase (15-PGDH), and acyl-CoA synthetase medium-chain family member 1 (ACSM1), in addition to a set of categorizing markers that are consistently expressed (AR, CD24) or not expressed (ERα, PgR, Bcl-2, and GATA-3) by apocrine metaplasia in benign breast lesions and apocrine sweat glands. This panel was used to analyze a well-defined cohort consisting of 14 apocrine ductal carcinoma in situ (ADCIS), and 33 IACs diagnosed at the Cancer Institute Hospital, Tokyo between 1997 and 2001. Samples were originally classified on the basis of cellular morphology with all cases having more than 90% of the tumour cells exhibiting cytological features typical of apocrine cells. Using the expression of 15-PGDH and/or ACSM1 as the main criterion, but taking into account the expression of other markers, we were able to identify unambiguously 13 out of 14 ADCIS (92.9%) and 20 out of 33 (60.6%) IAC samples, respectively, as being of apocrine origin. Our results demonstrate that IACs correspond to a distinct, even if heterogeneous, molecular subgroup of breast carcinomas that can be readily identified in an unbiased way using a combination of markers that recapitulate the phenotype of apocrine sweat glands (15-PGDH+, ACSM1+, AR+, CD24+, ERα−, PgR−, Bcl-2−, and GATA-3−). These results pave the way for addressing issues such as prognosis of IACs, patient stratification for targeted therapeutics, as well as research strategies for identifying novel therapeutic targets for developing new cancer therapies.

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