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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

HER2 and ESR1 mRNA expression levels and response to neoadjuvant trastuzumab plus chemotherapy in patients with primary breast cancer

Carsten Denkert1*, Jens Huober23, Sibylle Loibl4, Judith Prinzler1, Ralf Kronenwett567, Silvia Darb-Esfahani1, Jan C Brase6, Christine Solbach8, Keyur Mehta4, Peter A Fasching9, Bruno V Sinn1, Knut Engels10, Mattea Reinisch4, Martin-Leo Hansmann10, Hans Tesch11, Gunter von Minckwitz4 and Michael Untch12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Pathology, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charitéplatz 1, D-10117 Berlin, Germany

2 Breast Cancer Center, Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Universitätsstr.1 Düsseldorf, Germany

3 Breast Center, Kantonsspital St. Gallen, Rorschacher Strasse 95, CH-9007, Switzerland

4 German Breast Group, Martin-Behaim-Str. 12, D-63263 Neu-Isenburg, Germany

5 Department of Internal Medicine, Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Universitätsstr.1 Düsseldorf, Germany

6 Sividon Diagnostics, Nattermannallee 1, D-50829 Cologne, Germany

7 Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Cologne, Nattermannallee 1, D-50829 Germany

8 Frauenklinik, Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Theodor-Stern-Kai 7, D-60590 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

9 Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, University Hospital Erlangen, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen Nuremberg, Universitätssstr. 21, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany

10 Senckenbergisches Institut für Pathologie, Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Theodor-Stern-Kai 7, D-60590 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

11 Onkologische Gemeinschaftspraxis am Bethanien-Krankenhaus, Im Prüfling 17-19, D-60389 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

12 Helios Klinikum Berlin-Buch, Schwanebecker Chaussee 50, D-13125 Berlin, Germany

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Breast Cancer Research 2013, 15:R11  doi:10.1186/bcr3384

Published: 7 February 2013

Abstract

Introduction

Recent data suggest that benefit from trastuzumab and chemotherapy might be related to expression of HER2 and estrogen receptor (ESR1). Therefore, we investigated HER2 and ESR1 mRNA levels in core biopsies of HER2-positive breast carcinomas from patients treated within the neoadjuvant GeparQuattro trial.

Methods

HER2 levels were centrally analyzed by immunohistochemistry (IHC), silver in situ hybridization (SISH) and qRT-PCR in 217 pretherapeutic formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) core biopsies. All tumors had been HER2-positive by local pathology and had been treated with neoadjuvant trastuzumab/ chemotherapy in GeparQuattro.

Results

Only 73% of the tumors (158 of 217) were centrally HER2-positive (cHER2-positive) by IHC/SISH, with cHER2-positive tumors showing a significantly higher pCR rate (46.8% vs. 20.3%, P <0.0005). HER2 status by qRT-PCR showed a concordance of 88.5% with the central IHC/SISH status, with a low pCR rate in those tumors that were HER2-negative by mRNA analysis (21.1% vs. 49.6%, P <0.0005). The level of HER2 mRNA expression was linked to response rate in ESR1-positive tumors, but not in ESR1-negative tumors. HER2 mRNA expression was significantly associated with pCR in the HER2-positive/ESR1-positive tumors (P = 0.004), but not in HER2-positive/ESR1-negative tumors.

Conclusions

Only patients with cHER2-positive tumors - irrespective of the method used - have an increased pCR rate with trastuzumab plus chemotherapy. In patients with cHER2-negative tumors the pCR rate is comparable to the pCR rate in the non-trastuzumab treated HER-negative population. Response to trastuzumab is correlated to HER2 mRNA levels only in ESR1-positive tumors. This study adds further evidence to the different biology of both subsets within the HER2-positive group.

Introduction The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is the prototype of a predictive biomarker for targeted treatment [1-8]. International initiatives have established the combination of immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization as the current gold standard [9,10]. As an additional approach determination of HER2 mRNA expression is technically feasible in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue [11-13]. Crosstalk between the estrogen receptor (ER) and the HER2 pathway has been suggested based on cell culture and animal models [14]. Consequently, the 2011 St Gallen panel has pointed out that HER2-positive tumors should be divided into two groups based on expression of the ER [15].

A retrospective analysis of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) B31 study has suggested that mRNA levels of HER2 and ESR1 might be relevant for the degree of benefit from adjuvant trastuzumab. By subpopulation treatment effect pattern plot (STEPP) analysis in ER-positive tumors, benefit from trastuzumab was shown to be restricted to those with higher levels of HER2 mRNA (S Paik, personal communication, results summarized in [15]).

In our study we evaluated this hypothesis in the neoadjuvant setting in a cohort of 217 patients from the neoadjuvant GeparQuattro trial [5]. All patients had been HER2- positive by local pathology assessment and had received 24 to 36 weeks of neoadjuvant trastuzumab plus an anthracycline/taxane-based chemotherapy. For central evaluation we used three different methods, HER2 IHC, and HER2 silver in situ hybridization (SISH), as well as measurement of HER2 mRNA by quantitative real-time (qRT)-PCR [11].

The primary objective of this analysis was to investigate if pathological complete response (pCR) rate in HER2-positive breast cancer would depend on the level of HER2 mRNA expression, with a separate analysis for HR-positive and -negative tumors. Central evaluation of the HER2 status showed that 27% of the tumors with HER2 overexpression by local pathology were HER2-negative. This enabled us to compare response rates in patients with HER2-positive and -negative tumors as a secondary objective.