AA Muftah, M Aleskandarany, SN Sonbul, CC Nolan, M Diez Rodriguez, C Caldas, IO Ellis, AR Green, EA Rakha
AIMS: Although oestrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancers (BCs) do not respond to hormone therapy, the response of ER-positive BCs is reported to be variable, which may suggest a dose-dependent effect. The aim of this study was to assess the pattern of ER expression in BCs at the protein (immunohistochemistry) and transcriptome (microarray-based gene expression) levels. METHODS AND RESULTS: ER immunohistochemical (IHC) expression was assessed in a large series of BCs, including 3649 core biopsies and 1892 cases prepared as tissue microarrays (TMAs) stained with specific antibodies. ESR1 mRNA expression was assessed in the METABRIC study (1980 cases), by the use of the Linear Models for Microarray Data (limma) software, and the results were compared with protein levels. IHC data confirmed the bimodality of ER expression, with 92.2% and 89.2% of the cases showing completely negative (<1%) or highly positive (≥70%) expression on the cores and TMAs, respectively. Weakly positive cases (1-10%) and intermediately positive (11-69%) cases were infrequent (2.7% and 5.1%, and 1.6% and 9.2%, in cores and TMAs, respectively), and did not show survival difference from ER-negative tumours. When full-face sections of the corresponding excision specimens were immunostained, 47% of the ER-low/intermediate group were deemed to be ER-negative. Transcriptomic data not only showed a significant correlation between ESR1 mRNA and protein expression levels, but also confirmed the bimodality of ER expression at the mRNA level. CONCLUSIONS: Our study provides further evidence that ER expression is bimodal, and that it is observed at both the mRNA and protein levels. The reported poor survival of BC patients with low ER expression in the early clinical trials may be related to the inclusion of ER-negative cases.