Electrophoretic cytopathology resolves ERBB2 forms with single-cell resolution NPJ PRECISION ONCOLOGY Kang, C., Ward, T. M., Bockhorn, J., Schiffman, C., Huang, H., Pegram, M. D., Herr, A. E. 2018; 2: 10

Abstract

In addition to canonical oncoproteins, truncated isoforms and proteolysis products are implicated in both drug resistance and disease progression. In HER2-positive breast tumors, expression of truncated HER2 isoforms resulting from alternative translation and/or carboxy-terminal fragments (CTFs) resulting from proteolysis (collectively, t-erbB2) have been associated with shortened progression-free survival of patients. Thus, to advance clinical pathology and inform treatment decisions, we developed a high-selectivity cytopathology assay capable of distinguishing t-erbB2 from full-length HER2 expression without the need for isoform-specific antibodies. Our microfluidic, single-cell western blot, employs electrophoretic separations to resolve full-length HER2 from the smaller t-erbB2 in each ~28?pL single-cell lysate. Subsequently, a pan-HER2 antibody detects all resolved HER2 protein forms via immunoprobing. In analysis of eight breast tumor biopsies, we identified two tumors comprised of 15% and 40% t-erbB2-expressing cells. By single-cell western blotting of the t-erbB2-expressing cells, we observed statistically different ratios of t-erbB2 proteins to full-length HER2 expression. Further, target multiplexing and clustering analyses scrutinized signaling, including ribosomal S6, within the t-erbB2-expressing cell subpopulation. Taken together, cytometric assays that report both protein isoform profiles and signaling state offer cancer classification taxonomies with unique relevance to precisely describing drug resistance mechanisms in which oncoprotein isoforms/fragments are implicated.

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