Journal Article

Quantitative Association Between HER-2/neu and Steroid Hormone Receptors in Hormone Receptor-Positive Primary Breast Cancer

Gottfried Konecny, Giovanni Pauletti, Mark Pegram, Michael Untch, Sugandha Dandekar, Zuleima Aguilar, Cindy Wilson, Hong-Mei Rong, Ingo Bauerfeind, Margret Felber, He-Jing Wang, Malgorzata Beryt, Ram Seshadri, Herrmann Hepp and Dennis J. Slamon

in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Volume 95, issue 2, pages 142-153
Published in print January 2003 | ISSN: 0027-8874
Published online January 2003 | e-ISSN: 1460-2105 | DOI:
Quantitative Association Between HER-2/neu and Steroid Hormone Receptors in Hormone Receptor-Positive Primary Breast Cancer

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Background: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusion: 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.

Journal Article.  10030 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Oncology

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