The biological relevance of nuclear ErbB-2/HER2 (NuclErbB-2) presence in breast tumors remains unexplored. In this study we assessed the clinical significance of ErbB-2 nuclear localization in primary invasive breast cancer. The reporting recommendations for tumor marker prognostic studies (REMARK) guidelines were used as reference.
Tissue microarrays from a cohort of 273 primary invasive breast carcinomas from women living in Chile, a Latin American country, were examined for membrane (MembErbB-2) and NuclErbB-2 expression by an immunofluorescence (IF) protocol we developed. ErbB-2 expression was also evaluated by immunohistochemistry (IHC) with a series of antibodies. Correlation between NuclErbB-2 and MembErbB-2, and between NuclErbB-2 and clinicopathological characteristics of tumors was studied. The prognostic value of NuclErbB-2 in overall survival (OS) was evaluated using Kaplan-Meier method, and Cox model was used to explore NuclErbB-2 as independent prognostic factor for OS.
The IF protocol we developed showed significantly higher sensitivity for detection of NuclErbB-2 than IHC procedures, while its specificity and sensitivity to detect MembErbB-2 were comparable to those of IHC procedures. We found 33.6% NuclErbB-2 positivity, 14.2% MembErbB-2 overexpression by IF, and 13.0% MembErbB-2 prevalence by IHC in our cohort. We identified NuclErbB-2 positivity as a significant independent predictor of worse OS in patients with MembErbB-2 overexpression. NuclErbB-2 was also a biomarker of lower OS in tumors that overexpress MembErbB-2 and lack steroid hormone receptors.
We revealed a novel role for NuclErbB-2 as an independent prognostic factor of poor clinical outcome in MembErbB-2-positive breast tumors. Our work indicates that patients presenting NuclErbB-2 may need new therapeutic strategies involving specific blockage of ErbB-2 nuclear migration.