Correlation of HER2 gene amplification with immunohistochemistry in breast cancer as determined by a novel monoplex polymerase chain reaction assay

Appl Immunohistochem Mol Morphol. 2005 Dec;13(4):333-41. doi: 10.1097/01.pai.0000158400.58030.c4.


Amplification of the HER2 oncogene in breast cancer identifies patients who are likely to respond to anti-HER2 mAb therapy. Current clinical practice dictates that all breast cancers first undergo HER2 screening by IHC. Strongly positive (3+ on a 0-to-3+ scale) IHC cases are considered as HER2-amplified tumors and are not evaluated further because of the strong correlation between HER2 gene amplification as measured by FISH and 3+ IHC. This strong correlation has recently been questioned, and some data suggest that over 50% of 3+ IHC HER2 immunostains may not be due to HER2 gene amplification. To help resolve this discrepancy, the authors developed a quantitative PCR assay for HER2. Quantitative PCR was used to determine the amount of HER2 DNA relative to a control gene, IF2 (eukaryotic translation initiation factor, 2p11.1-q11.1). The PCR assay is performed on genomic DNA isolated from paraffin-embedded breast cancer tissue. The PCR assay developed is a monoplex assay in which the HER2 and IF2 PCRs are performed in separate cuvettes. Cases of HER2 FISH amplified breast cancer and HER2 FISH nonamplified breast cancer were chosen for study by monoplex HER2 PCR. HER2 overexpression was evaluated by IHC. Twenty-two cases of HER2-positive and 22 cases of HER2-negative breast cancer, as determined by FISH, were assayed for HER2 by PCR and IHC. Sixteen of the 44 cases were interpreted as 3+ IHC. All 16 showed HER2 amplification by PCR and 15 showed HER2 amplification by FISH. One FISH negative case was found to be HER2 amplified by PCR and showed 3+ IHC stain, suggesting the FISH result in this case was underinterpreted. Two FISH positive cases were found to be negative by PCR and negative in IHC as well, suggesting the FISH result in these cases was overinterpreted. The authors conclude that 3+ IHC membrane staining correctly identifies neoplasms showing HER2 gene amplification. Monoplex HER2 PCR may offer significant advantages over both IHC and FISH for HER2 testing in breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gene Amplification*
  • Genes, erbB-2*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results