Background: For individuals genetically predisposed to breast and ovarian cancer through inheritance of a mutant BRCA allele, somatic loss of heterozygosity affecting the wild-type allele is considered obligatory for cancer initiation and/or progression. However, several lines of evidence suggest that phenotypic effects may result from BRCA haploinsufficiency.
Methods: Archival fixed and embedded tissue specimens from women with germ line deleterious mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 were identified. After pathologic review, focal areas of normal breast epithelium, atypical ductal hyperplasia, ductal carcinoma-in-situ, and invasive ductal carcinoma were identified from 14 BRCA1-linked and 9 BRCA2-linked breast cancers. Ten BRCA-linked prophylactic mastectomy specimens and 12 BRCA-linked invasive ovarian carcinomas were also studied. Laser catapult microdissection was used to isolate cells from the various pathologic lesions and corresponding normal tissues. After DNA isolation, real-time polymerase chain reaction assays were used to quantitate the proportion of wild-type to mutant BRCA alleles in each tissue sample.
Results: Quantitative allelotyping of microdissected cells revealed a high level of heterogeneity in loss of heterozygosity within and between preinvasive lesions and invasive cancers from BRCA1 and BRCA2 heterozygotes with breast cancer. In contrast, all BRCA-associated ovarian cancers displayed complete loss of the wild-type BRCA allele.
Conclusions: These data suggest that loss of the wild-type BRCA allele is not required for BRCA-linked breast tumorigenesis, which would have important implications for the genetic mechanism of BRCA tumor suppression and for the clinical management of this patient population.