The ligands, receptors and related signaling proteins of the insulin-like growth factor family are involved in the regulation of breast-cancer cell growth. We investigated the expression pattern of insulin-like growth factor-I receptor (IGF-IR), insulin receptor (IR) and insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1), a core downstream signaling protein, in 69 primary breast-cancer specimens of different grades and in 21 control tissues by immunohistochemistry. In addition, cell proliferation (percentage of Ki67(+) nuclei) and estrogen receptor (ER) expression were determined. IGF-IR, IRS-1 and IR were expressed mainly in epithelial cells. IRS-1 and IGF-IR were expressed at high levels in control tissues and in well and moderately differentiated carcinomas but at low levels in poorly differentiated breast cancers. IR expression did not show a significant correlation with the differentiation grade of the tissues investigated. Statistical analysis (ROC analysis for tumor grade) demonstrated that down-regulation of IGF-IR and IRS-1 correlated better with tumor progression than reduction of ER expression or increase in cell proliferation, IGF-IR showing the best correlation, followed by IRS-1 and, less significant, ER and Ki67. Our findings clearly show that progression of breast cancer is accompanied by a reduction of IGF-IR/IRS-1 expression and that IGF-IR/IRS-1 expression inversely correlates with high proliferation rate in dedifferentiated breast cancers. The strong correlation of IGF-IR and IRS-1 down-regulation with tumor progression suggests the use of IGF-IR and IRS-1 as a novel set of marker proteins for tumor grading.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.