Background: Slug, Snail, and Twist are transcription factors that regulate the expression of tumor suppressors such as E-cadherin. We examined the distribution and expression of these three molecules together with the methylation of the Twist gene promoter in human breast cancer to elucidate their clinical significance.
Methods: Frozen sections from breast cancer primary tumors (tumor, n = 114; background, n = 30) were immunostained with Slug, Snail, and Twist antibodies. RNA was reverse-transcribed, quantified, and analyzed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR). Results were expressed as copy number of transcript per 50 ng of RNA (standardized against beta-actin).
Results: Immunohistochemistry revealed that all three molecules were stained in mammary tissues, with an increase in Twist within tumor tissues; this was supported by Q-PCR analysis. Q-PCR analysis showed that Slug was elevated with increasing tumor grade and prognostic indices. Twist was elevated with increasing nodal involvement (tumor-node-metastasis status). Conversely, Snail was reduced in expression corresponding with prognostic indices and tumor grade. Increased levels of Slug were associated with tumors from patients with metastatic disease or disease recurrence, and increased expression of Twist was associated with tumors from patients who had died from breast cancer. It is interesting to note that Snail expression was significantly reduced in patients with a poor outcome and those who had node-positive tumors. In addition, tumors exhibited methylation of the Twist promoter.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate that all three transcription factors have inappropriate expression in breast cancer and that this may play a part in the progression of human breast tumors.