Aim: Several studies have investigated the expression of the cytokeratins (CKs), vimentin, the epithelial growth factor receptor (EGFR), the oestrogen receptor (ER), and the progesterone receptor (PgR), in breast cancer, but no study has directly compared p53 mutations with these phenotypic and differentiation markers in the same case. The present study was designed to provide some of this information.
Methods: The expression of the p53 and bcl-2 proteins was evaluated by immunohistochemistry in relation to phenotypic characteristics and cellular kinetic parameters (mitotic index and apoptotic index) in 37 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and 27 cases of infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC) of the breast. In addition, p53 gene mutation was examined by polymerase chain reaction single strand conformation polymorphism analysis (SSCP).
Results: Thirteen cases (eight DCIS and five IDC) showed expression of CK8, CK14, CK18, vimentin, and EGFR, consistent with a stem cell phenotype, whereas 44 cases (27 DCIS and 17 IDC) showed expression of CK8 and CK1, weak or negative expression of CK18, but were negative for vimentin and EGFR, consistent with a luminal cell phenotype. DCIS and IDC cases with a stem cell phenotype were ER/PgR negative and intermediately or poorly differentiated. In contrast, the cases with luminal cell phenotype were ER/PgR positive and well or intermediately differentiated. In addition, intermediately or poorly differentiated cases with a stem cell phenotype showed higher proliferative activity (per cent of MIB-l positive cells) than did intermediately or well differentiated cases with a luminal cell phenotype. Both DCIS and IDC cases with a stem cell phenotype were p53 positive and bcl-2 negative by immunohistochemistry. In IDC, p53 expression was associated with a reduction of both mitotic index and apoptotic index compared with DCIS. Most of the tumours showing a more differentiated phenotype (luminal) were p53 negative and bcl-2 positive. In these cases, cell kinetic parameters increased from DCIS to IDC. These data suggest the existence of subsets of DCIS and IDC that, because of their phenotypic characteristics, could be derived from subpopulations of normal breast cells having different control mechanisms of cell proliferation and neoplastic progression.
Conclusions: These results are compatible with the hypothesis that the phenotype of the cell of origin constrains both tumour phenotype and the choice of genetic events; however, the occurrence of p53 mutants by chance during neoplastic transformation cannot be excluded.