Molecular Diagnostics

Quantification of HER1, HER2 and HER3 by time-resolved Förster resonance energy transfer in FFPE triple-negative breast cancer samples

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Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) has a worse prognosis compared with other breast cancer subtypes, and biomarkers to identify patients at high risk of recurrence are needed. Here, we investigated the expression of human epidermal receptor (HER) family members in TNBC and evaluated their potential as biomarkers of recurrence.


We developed Time Resolved-Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (TR-FRET) assays to quantify HER1, HER2 and HER3 in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tumour tissues. After assessing the performance and precision of our assays, we quantified HER protein expression in 51 TNBC specimens, and investigated the association of their expression with relapse-free survival.


The assays were quantitative, accurate, and robust. In TNBC specimens, HER1 levels ranged from ≈4000 to more than 2 million receptors per cell, whereas HER2 levels varied from ≈1000 to 60,000 receptors per cell. HER3 expression was very low (less than 5500 receptors per cell in all samples). Moderate HER2 expression was significantly associated with higher risk of recurrence (HR = 3.93; P = 0.003).


Our TR-FRET assays accurately quantify HER1, HER2 and HER3 in FFPE breast tumour specimens. Moderate HER2 expression may represent a novel prognostic marker in patients with TNBC.

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We thank Magalie Pedot for her excellent technical assistance. We are grateful to Blandine Massemin for her help in collecting and preparing clinical samples. We also thank Sonia Boulabas for collecting the clinical data.

Author information

E.C., T.C., J.F., A.P. and G.M. were responsible for the conception and design of the study. J.B. and W.J. enrolled the patients and contributed to the patient data collection. A.H., H.B., F.B., E.L. and J.S. performed the experiments. A.H., C.M., E.C. and F.B. contributed to data analysis and interpretation. A.H. drafted the manuscript and prepared the figures. All authors discussed the results and implications, and critically revised and approved the final manuscript version.

Correspondence to Evelyne Lopez-Crapez.

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Ethical approval and consent to participate

The present study was performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki guidelines, and was approved by the ICM Institutional Review Board (ID number ICM-CRB-2012/04). Samples were provided by ICM biological resource centre (Biobank number BB-0033-00059), following the ethics and legal national French dispositions for the patients’ information and consent. Considering the retrospective, non-interventional nature of this study, no consent was deemed necessary by the review board.

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Our manuscript does not contain any individual person’s data in any form.

Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Funding information

This work was supported by the grant AAP13 “Fonds Unique Interministériel” FUI UmAbHER3 F120402M.

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Ho-Pun-Cheung, A., Bazin, H., Boissière-Michot, F. et al. Quantification of HER1, HER2 and HER3 by time-resolved Förster resonance energy transfer in FFPE triple-negative breast cancer samples. Br J Cancer (2019) doi:10.1038/s41416-019-0670-8

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