Total RNA yield and microarray gene expression profiles from fine-needle aspiration biopsy and core-needle biopsy samples of breast carcinoma

Cancer. 2003 Jun 15;97(12):2960-71. doi: 10.1002/cncr.11435.


Background: Gene expression profiling should be applicable to needle biopsy samples if microarray technology is to become practically useful for clinical research or management of breast carcinoma. This study compared gene expression profiles derived from fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) and from core needle biopsy (CBX).

Methods: Total RNA was extracted from single FNAB and CBX samples. Corresponding pairs of FNAB and CBX were analyzed for similarity of gene expression profiles using cDNA microarrays that contain 30721 human sequences. A subset of genes that distinguished CBX samples from FNAB samples was evaluated in a larger group of needle biopsy samples and in a published genomic database derived from 78 sporadic breast carcinomas with known clinical outcome.

Results: Sixty-eight patients with newly diagnosed breast carcinoma were included in the current study. Sixty-five patients underwent FNAB (17 had both FNAB and CBX) and 3 underwent CBX only. Extracted RNA was of suitable quality for hybridization in 46 (71%) FNABs and 15 (75%) CBXs. Total RNA yield in those samples was similar for single-pass FNAB (mean = 3.6 microg and median = 2.2 microg; n = 46) and CBX (mean = 2.8 microg and median = 2.0 microg; n = 15), with 1 microg or more of total RNA in all cases. Transcriptional profiling was performed successfully in all cases when it was attempted, in a total of 50 samples (38 FNABs and 12 CBXs), including matched FNAB and CBX samples from 10 patients. There were differences in gene expression profiles in 10 matched FNAB and CBX sample pairs. Genes that were expressed differently in CBX samples, compared with FNAB samples, were recognized as being predominantly from the endothelium, fibroblasts, myofibroblasts or smooth muscle, and histiocytes. Corresponding microscopic cell counts from FNABs demonstrated means of 80% tumor cells, 15% lymphocytes, and 5% stromal cells, whereas CBXs contained 50% tumor cells, 20% lymphocytes, and 30% stromal cells. Considering that CBXs are approximately six-fold richer in nonlymphoid stromal cells than FNABs and that CBXs differentially express a set of recognized stromal genes, the authors used these biopsies to define a transcriptional profile of breast carcinoma stroma. A set of 120 genes differentially expressed in CBXs was assessed independently in a published breast carcinoma genomic database to classify breast carcinomas based on stromal gene expression. Subgroups of tumors with low or high stromal signal were identified, but there was no correlation with the development of systemic metastases within 5 years.

Conclusions: Both FNAB and CBX yield a similar quality and quantity of total RNA and are suitable for cDNA microarray analyses in approximately 70-75% of single-pass samples. Transcriptional profiles from FNAB and CBX of the same tumor generally are similar and are driven by the tumor cell population. The authors concluded that each technique has relative advantages. The FNABs provide transcriptional profiles that are a purer representation of the tumor cell population, whereas transcriptional profiles from CBXs include more representation from nonlymphoid stromal elements. Selection of the preferred needle biopsy sampling technique for genomic studies of breast carcinomas should depend on whether variable stromal gene expression is desirable in the samples.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biopsy, Needle*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis*
  • RNA, Neoplasm / analysis*


  • RNA, Neoplasm