Immunohistochemical expression of EGFR in colorectal carcinoma correlates with high but not low level gene amplification, as demonstrated by CISH

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Abstract

Aim:

To assess and compare immunohistochemical expression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) with gene amplification as demonstrated by chromogenic in situ hybridisation (CISH), in colorectal adenocarcinoma.

Methods:

Sections from 100 consecutive colorectal cancer resection specimens were stained for EGFR using immunohistochemistry and CISH. Immunohistochemical assessment was independently performed at two laboratories, using the same antibody and protocols.

Results:

With immunohistochemistry, strong circumferential membrane staining (3+ staining) was demonstrated in only 5% of cases, and this was only focal in three of five cases. At one laboratory, weak or incomplete staining (1+ or 2+) was observed in five further cases (5%), which had been negative at the other laboratory.

Results:

CISH demonstrated high level gene amplification (>10 copies/nucleus) in the same five cases which had demonstrated 3+ staining with immunohistochemistry, and in those cases where the staining was focal, the amplification was demonstrated in the same foci of the tumour. Five further cases (5%) had low level amplification (5–10 copies per nucleus); these cases did not exhibit significant positive staining with immunohistochemistry.

Results:

All the cases which demonstrated gene amplification (high or low level) arose in the distal colon. There was no correlation between gene amplification status and a variety of other variables, including stage at diagnosis, mucinous differentiation, neuroendocrine differentiation, or loss of expression of mismatch repair proteins.

Conclusions:

Immunohistochemical expression of EGFR is variable between laboratories, even using standardised protocols. 3+ staining is predictive of high level gene amplification, but correlates very poorly with low level amplification, which may still be clinically significant. In some cases gene amplification was only focal, offering a potential explanation for poor response to targeted therapy in patients with EGFR positive tumours.

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