Background: HSP90 chaperones molecules critical for cell survival and malignant progression, including mutated B-raf. HSP90-targeting agents are in clinical trials. No large studies have been conducted on expression of HSP90 in melanomas.
Materials and methods: Tissue microarrays containing 414 nevi, 198 primary and 270 metastatic melanomas were assessed using our automated quantitative analysis (AQUA) method of in situ protein measurement; we use S-100 to define pixels as melanocytes (tumor mask) within the array spot, and measure HSP90 expression within the mask using Cy5-conjugated antibodies.
Results: HSP90 expression was higher in melanomas than nevi (P < 0.0001) and higher in metastatic than primary specimens (P < 0.0001). No association was seen between high HSP90 expression and survival in the primary or metastatic patient subsets. In primary melanomas, high HSP90 expression was associated with higher Clark level (P = 0.0167) and increased Breslow depth (P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: HSP90 expression was significantly higher in tumors than nevi and was associated with disease progression, indicating that it might be a valuable drug target in melanoma, as well as a useful diagnostic marker. Prospective studies are needed to confirm the diagnostic role of HSP90, as well as the predictive role of HSP90 expression in patients treated with HSP90 inhibitors.