Quantitative association between, HER-2/neu and steroid hormone receptors in hormone receptor-positive primary breast cancer JOURNAL OF THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE Konecny, G., Pauletti, G., Pegram, M., Untch, M., Dandekar, S., Aguilar, Z., Wilson, C., Rong, H. M., Bauerfeind, I., Felber, M., Wang, H. J., Beryt, M., Seshadri, R., Hepp, H., Slamon, D. J. 2003; 95 (2): 142-153


HER-2/neu, which encodes a receptor tyrosine kinase, is amplified and overexpressed in 20%-25% of human breast cancers. Such tumors are often resistant to hormone therapy. Despite a general inverse association between HER-2/neu amplification/overexpression and estrogen receptor (ER) and/or progesterone receptor (PR) expression, a fraction of patients are both HER-2/neu- and hormone receptor (HR)-positive. The efficacy of hormone therapy in this group is currently a matter of debate. To better understand the relationship between HER-2/neu positivity and HR expression, we analyzed HER-2/neu, ER, and PR as continuous variables in breast cancer cell lines and two cohorts of primary breast cancer patients.HER-2/neu and ER/PR expression was analyzed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and enzyme immunoassay (EIA), respectively, in 14 human breast cancer cell lines, some of which had been transfected with the HER-2/neu gene. For the clinical study population, HER-2/neu protein levels were assessed by ELISA (cohort A, n = 665), and HER-2/neu gene copy number was determined using fluorescence in situ hybridization (cohort B, n = 894). ER/PR expression was analyzed by EIA (cohort A) or radioligand binding (cohort B). Associations between HER-2/neu and ER/PR expression were analyzed using Spearman's rho correlation and the chi-square test, and absolute levels were compared using the Mann-Whitney U test. All statistical tests were two-sided.HR-positive human breast cancer cell lines transfected with the HER-2/neu gene expressed statistically significantly lower levels of ER and PR than parental lines. In the clinical cohorts, levels of HER-2/neu overexpression and gene amplification were inversely correlated with ER/PR levels (Cohort A [n = 112]: for ER, r = -0.34, P<.001; for PR, r = -0.24, P =.010. Cohort B [n = 188]: for ER, r = -0.39, P<.001; for PR, r = -0.26, P<.001). Among patients with HR-positive tumors, HER-2/neu-positive tumors had statistically significantly lower ER/PR levels than HER-2/neu-negative ones (Cohort A: for ER, median = 25 fmol/mg [interquartile range [IQR] = 13-78] versus median = 38.5 fmol/mg [IQR = 17-99] and P =.031; for PR, median = 35 fmol/mg [IQR = 12-119] versus median = 88.5 fmol/mg [IQR = 22-236] and P<.001. Cohort B: for ER, median = 44 fmol/mg [IQR = 13-156] versus median = 92 fmol/mg [IQR = 35-235] and P<.001; for PR, median = 36 fmol/mg [IQR = 13-108] versus median = 84 fmol/mg [IQR = 24-250] and P<.001). Patients with higher levels of HER-2/neu overexpression or amplification had statistically significantly lower levels of ER/PR than patients with lower levels of HER-2/neu overexpression or amplification.Because absolute HR levels are strongly related to response to hormone therapy in primary and advanced breast cancer, reduced ER/PR expression may be one mechanism to explain the relative resistance of HER-2/neu-positive:HR-positive tumors to hormone therapy.

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