Association between HER-2/neu and vascular endothelial growth factor expression predicts clinical outcome in primary breast cancer patients CLINICAL CANCER RESEARCH Konecny, G. E., Meng, Y. G., Untch, M., Wang, H. J., Bauerfeind, I., Epstein, M., Stieber, P., Vernes, J. M., Gutierrez, J., Hong, K., Beryt, M., Hepp, H., Slamon, D. J., Pegram, M. D. 2004; 10 (5): 1706-1716


Activation or overexpression of HER-2/neu is associated with up-regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in human breast cancer cells in vitro. Preclinical experiments indicate that increased expression of VEGF may in part mediate the biologically aggressive phenotype of HER-2/neu-overexpressing human breast cancer. It was the purpose of this study to: (a). evaluate the association between HER-2/neu and VEGF expression in a large clinical cohort of primary breast cancer patients; (b). compare the prognostic significance of VEGF isoforms; and (c). analyze the combined effects of HER-2/neu and VEGF on clinical outcome.HER-2/neu and VEGF were measured by ELISA in primary breast tumor tissue lysates from 611 unselected patients with a median clinical follow-up of 50 months. At least six VEGF isoforms consisting of 121, 145, 165, 183, 189, or 206 amino acids are generated as a result of alternative splicing. The VEGF(121-206) ELISA uses antibodies that bind to VEGF(121) and, therefore, detects all of the VEGF isoforms with 121 and more amino acids. The VEGF(165-206) ELISA uses antibodies that bind to VEGF(165) and, therefore, detects all of the VEGF isoforms with 165 and more amino acids. VEGF(121-206) and VEGF(165-206) were analyzed both as continuous and categorical variables, using detectable expression as a cutoff for positivity. Cell lines with defined HER-2/neu expression levels were used to establish a cutoff point for HER-2/neu overexpression in breast tumor samples.Our findings indicate a significant positive association between HER-2/neu and VEGF expression. VEGF(121-206) and VEGF(165-206) expression was detectable in 88 (77.2%) and 100 (87.7%), respectively, of the 114 patients with HER-2/neu-overexpressing tumors, in contrast to 271 (54.5%) and 353 (71.0%), respectively, of the 497 patients with nonoverexpressing tumors (chi(2) test: P < 0.001 for both VEGF(121-206) and VEGF(165-206)). VEGF(121-206) and VEGF(165-206) demonstrate a comparable prognostic significance for survival in unselected primary breast cancer patients (univariate analysis: VEGF(121-206), P = 0.0068; VEGF(165-206), P = 0.0046; multivariate analysis: VEGF(121-206), P = 0.1475; VEGF(165-206), P = 0.1483). When the analyses were performed separately for node-negative and node-positive patients, VEGF(121-206) and VEGF(165-206) were of prognostic significance for survival only in node-positive patients (univariate analysis: VEGF(121-206), P = 0.0003; VEGF(165-206), P = 0.0038; multivariate analysis: VEGF(121-206), P = 0.0103; VEGF(165-206), P = 0.0150). A biological concentration-effect relationship between VEGF expression and survival (VEGF(121-206), P = 0.0280; VEGF(165-206,) P = 0.0097) suggests that VEGF levels, as determined by ELISA, could be of importance as a predictive marker for therapeutic strategies that target VEGF. Combining HER-2/neu and VEGF(121-206)/VEGF(165-206) results in additional prognostic information for survival (VEGF(121-206), P = 0.0133; VEGF(165-206), P = 0.0092).The positive association between HER-2/neu and VEGF expression implicates VEGF in the aggressive phenotype exhibited by HER-2/neu overexpression, and supports the use of combination therapies directed against both HER-2/neu and VEGF for treatment of breast cancers that overexpress HER-2/neu.

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