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Identification of molecular apocrine breast tumours by microarray analysis


Previous microarray studies on breast cancer identified multiple tumour classes, of which the most prominent, named luminal and basal, differ in expression of the oestrogen receptor α gene (ER). We report here the identification of a group of breast tumours with increased androgen signalling and a ‘molecular apocrine’ gene expression profile. Tumour samples from 49 patients with large operable or locally advanced breast cancers were tested on Affymetrix U133A gene expression microarrays. Principal components analysis and hierarchical clustering split the tumours into three groups: basal, luminal and a group we call molecular apocrine. All of the molecular apocrine tumours have strong apocrine features on histological examination (P=0.0002). The molecular apocrine group is androgen receptor (AR) positive and contains all of the ER-negative tumours outside the basal group. Kolmogorov–Smirnov testing indicates that oestrogen signalling is most active in the luminal group, and androgen signalling is most active in the molecular apocrine group. ERBB2 amplification is commoner in the molecular apocrine than the other groups. Genes that best split the three groups were identified by Wilcoxon test. Correlation of the average expression profile of these genes in our data with the expression profile of individual tumours in four published breast cancer studies suggest that molecular apocrine tumours represent 8–14% of tumours in these studies. Our data show that it is possible with microarray data to divide mammary tumour cells into three groups based on steroid receptor activity: luminal (ER+ AR+), basal (ER− AR−) and molecular apocrine (ER− AR+).

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We thank the women participating in the EORTC 10994/BIG 00-01 study for generously donating tumour samples. We thank the doctors, nurses and data managers from the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), the Anglo-Celtic Cooperative Oncology Group (ACCOG), the Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research (SAKK) and the Swedish Breast Cancer Group (SweBCG) for their active participation. We thank Annick Ducraux for technical assistance and Monica de Vos for data management. We thank Dr Wassim Raffoul for providing reduction mammoplasty tissue. We thank Dr Patrick Descombes for advice on chip hybridization and the Geneva NCCR ‘Frontiers in Genomics’ for use of their Affymetrix workstation. We thank Dr Michael Morris for measuring AR repeat length. We thank Drs Pascale Anderle, Thierry Sengstag and Viviane Praz for advice on Io and Cleanex. We thank Dr Felix Naef for helpful discussions on data analysis. We thank the Swiss National Science Foundation NCCR Molecular Oncology program, MEDIC Foundation, EORTC Translational Research Fund and Oncosuisse for financial support.

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Correspondence to Richard Iggo.

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Farmer, P., Bonnefoi, H., Becette, V. et al. Identification of molecular apocrine breast tumours by microarray analysis. Oncogene 24, 4660–4671 (2005).

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  • breast cancer
  • microarrays
  • apocrine carcinoma

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