Breast cancer research and treatment

In situ detection of HER2:HER2 and HER2:HER3 protein-protein interactions demonstrates prognostic significance in early breast cancer.

PMID 21638049


HER2 overexpression/amplification is linked with poor prognosis in early breast cancer. Co-expression of HER2 and HER3 is associated with endocrine and chemotherapy resistance, driven not simply by expression but by signalling via HER2:HER3 or HER2:HER2 dimers. Proximity ligation assays (PLAs) detect protein-protein complexes at a single-molecule level and allow study of signalling pathways in situ. A cohort of 100 tumours was analyzed by PLA, IHC and FISH. HER complexes were analyzed by PLA in a further 321 tumours from the BR9601 trial comparing cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and fluorouracil (CMF) with epirubicin followed by CMF (epi-CMF). The relationships between HER dimer expression and RFS and OS were investigated, and multivariate regression analysis identified factors influencing patient prognosis. PLA successfully and reproducibly detected HER2:HER2 and HER2:HER3 protein complexes in vivo. A significant association (P < 0.00001) was identified between HER2 homodimerization and HER2 gene amplification. Following a minimum p value approach high levels of HER2:HER2 dimers were significantly associated with reduced relapse-free (RFS; hazard ratio = 1.72, 95% confidence interval 1.15-2.56, P = 0.008) and overall survival (OS HR = 1.69 95% CI = 1.09-2.62, P = 0.019). Similarly, high levels of HER2:HER3 dimers were associated with reduced RFS (HR = 2.18, 95% CI = 1.46-3.26, P = 0.00016) and OS (HR = 2.21, 95% CI = 1.41-3.47, P = 0.001). This study demonstrates that in situ detection of HER2 and HER2:3 protein:protein complexes can be performed robustly and reproducibly in clinical specimens, provides novel prognostic information and opens a significant novel opportunity to probe the clinical impact of cellular signalling processes.