In addition to genomic signaling, it is accepted that ERα has non-nuclear signaling functions, which correlate with tamoxifen resistance in preclinical models. However, evidence for cytoplasmic ER localization in human breast tumors is less established. We sought to determine the presence and implications of non-nuclear ER in clinical specimens.
A panel of ERα-specific antibodies (SP1, MC20, F10, 60c, 1D5) were validated by western blot and quantitative immunofluorescent (QIF) analysis of cell lines and patient controls. Then eight retrospective cohorts collected on tissue microarrays were assessed for cytoplasmic ER. Four cohorts were from Yale (YTMA 49, 107, 130, 128) and four others (NCI YTMA 99, South Swedish Breast Cancer Group SBII, NSABP B14, and a Vietnamese Cohort) from other sites around the world.
Four of the antibodies specifically recognized ER by western and QIF, showed linear increases in amounts of ER in cell line series with progressively increasing ER, and the antibodies were reproducible on YTMA 49 with pearson’s correlations (r2 values)ranging from 0.87-0.94. One antibody with striking cytoplasmic staining (MC20) failed validation. We found evidence for specific cytoplasmic staining with the other 4 antibodies across eight cohorts. The average incidence was 1.5%, ranging from 0 to 3.2%.
Our data shows ERα present in the cytoplasm in a number of cases using multiple antibodies, while reinforcing the importance of antibody validation. In nearly 3,200 cases, cytoplasmic ER is present at very low incidence, suggesting its measurement is unlikely to be of routine clinical value.