BMC cancer

Relationship between circulating tumor cells and epithelial to mesenchymal transition in early breast cancer.

PMID 26194471


Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) play a crucial role in tumor dissemination and are an independent survival predictor in breast cancer (BC) patients. Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is involved in cancer invasion and metastasis. The aim of this study was to assess correlation between CTCs and expression of EMT transcription factors TWIST1 and SLUG in breast tumor tissue. This study included 102 early BC patients treated by primary surgery. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were depleted of hematopoietic cells using RossetteSep™ negative selection kit. RNA extracted from CD45-depleted PBMC was interrogated for expression of EMT (TWIST1, SNAIL1, SLUG, FOXC2 and ZEB1) and epithelial (KRT19) gene transcripts by qRT-PCR. Expression of TWIST1 and SLUG in surgical specimens was evaluated by immunohistochemistry and quantified by multiplicative score. CTCs were detected in 24.5 % patients. CTCs exhibiting only epithelial markers were present in 8.8 % patients, whereas CTCs with only EMT markers were observed in 12.8 % of pts and CTCs co-expressing both markers were detected in 2.9 % pts. We observed lack of correlation between CTCs and expression of TWIST1 and SLUG in breast cancer cells or cancer associated stroma. Lack of correlation was observed for epithelial CTCs as well as for CTCs with EMT. In this translational study, we showed a lack of association between CTCs and expression of EMT-inducing transcription factors, TWIST1 and SLUG, in breast tumor tissue. Despite the fact that EMT is involved in cancer invasion and metastasis our results suggest, that expression of EMT proteins in unselected tumor tissue is not surrogate marker of CTCs with either mesenchymal or epithelial features.