Correlation of HER2 gene amplification with expression of the apoptosis-suppressing genes bcl-2 and bcl-x-L in ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast

Appl Immunohistochem Mol Morphol. 2005 Mar;13(1):14-8. doi: 10.1097/00129039-200503000-00003.


The protein product of the HER2 oncogene is overexpressed in an estimated 25 to 30% of breast carcinomas and is considered an indicator of poor clinical outcome. The bcl-2 and the bcl-x-L genes are the 2 main genes of the bcl-2 gene family that suppress tumor cell death/apoptosis. HER2 gene amplification is also described in a percentage of cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) of the breast. However, the relationship of such overexpression with the apoptosis-suppressing genes is currently unknown. A total of 37 consecutive cases of DCIS were immunostained for HER2 overexpression (clone CB11, Ventana), and expression of bcl-2 and bcl-x-L. DCIS cases were graded using the criteria of Holland et al. HER2 overexpression was scored 0 to 3+; 0 and 1+ were considered negative staining and 2+ and 3+ were considered positive staining. HER2 gene amplification was also confirmed with fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH). HER2 was positive in 22 of the 37 DCIS cases (60%) in accordance with previous reports. Immunohistochemical overexpression of HER2 was also highly correlated with HER2 amplification by FISH. HER2 overexpression (confirmed by FISH) was mostly seen in grade II (9 of 17) and grade III (9 of 12) DCIS lesions. Only 1 of the HER2-amplified cases was a grade I lesion. Furthermore, HER2 overexpression correlated with the presence of necrosis (P=0.003). Similarly, of the cases overexpressing HER2 at the highest level (3+), 90% were grade II or grade III lesions. A total of 73% of these cases also exhibited necrosis. Overexpression of HER2 3+ was also highly correlated with the presence of the apoptosis-suppressing gene bcl-x-L (coexpression in 87% of cases, P=0.01) but not with the prototype apoptosis-suppressing gene bcl-2 (coexpression in 50% of cases, P value not significant). First, in DCIS overexpression of HER2 the majority of grade II and grade III lesions is seen, and this correlates with the presence of necrosis. Second, HER2 overexpression is also highly correlated with the expression of the apoptosis-suppressing gene bcl-x-L, but not with the prototype apoptosis-suppressing gene bcl-2. These differences may prove useful in defining groups of DCIS lesions with enhanced tumor cell growth and propensity for progression to invasion.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Amplification
  • Genes, bcl-2*
  • Genes, erbB-2*
  • Humans
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics*
  • bcl-X Protein


  • BCL2L1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-X Protein