Background: BRCA1- and BRCA2-associated tumors appear to have distinct molecular signatures. BRCA1-associated tumors are predominantly basal-like cancers, whereas BRCA2-associated tumors have a predominant luminal-like phenotype. These two molecular signatures reflect in part the two cell types found in the terminal duct lobular unit of the breast. To elucidate novel genes involved in these two spectra of breast tumorigenesis we performed global gene expression analysis on breast tumors from germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers.
Methodology: Breast tumor RNAs from 7 BRCA1 and 6 BRCA2 mutation carriers were profiled using UHN human 19K cDNA microarrays. Supervised univariate analyses were conducted to identify genes differentially expressed between BRCA1 and BRCA2-associated tumors. Selected discriminatory genes were validated using real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction in the tumor RNAs, and/or by immunohistochemistry (IHC) or by in situ hybridization (ISH) on tissue microarrays (TMAs) containing an independent set of 58 BRCA1 and 64 BRCA2-associated tumors.
Results: Genes more highly expressed in BRCA1-associated tumors included stathmin, osteopontin, TGFbeta2 and Jagged 1 in addition to genes previously identified as characteristic of basal-like breast cancers. BRCA2-associated cancers were characterized by the higher relative expression of FGF1 and FGFR2. FGFR2 protein was also more highly expressed in BRCA2-associated cancers (P = 0.004).
Significance: BRCA1-associated tumours demonstrated increased expression of component genes of the Notch and TGFbeta pathways whereas the higher expression of FGFR2 and FGF1 in BRCA2-associated cancers suggests the existence of an autocrine stimulatory loop.