The role of intercellular tight junctions in breast epithelial cells is traditionally thought to be in maintaining polarity and barrier function. However, claudin-4, a tight junction protein, is overexpressed in breast tumour cells compared to normal epithelial cells, which generally corresponds to a loss in polarity. The aim of this study was to investigate the distribution and potential clinical value of claudin-4 in breast cancer, and to evaluate its usefulness as a prognostic and predictive biomarker. Expression of claudin-4 was initially examined by Western blot analysis in a cohort of 88 breast tumours, and was found to correlate positively with tumour grade and negatively with ER. Claudin-4 expression was then evaluated by immunohistochemistry in a larger cohort of 299 tumours represented on a tissue microarray. Claudin-4 expression correlated positively with tumour grade and Her2, and negatively with ER. High claudin-4 expression was also associated with worse breast cancer-specific survival (p = 0.003), recurrence-free survival (p = 0.025) and overall survival (p = 0.034). Multivariate analysis revealed that claudin-4 independently predicted survival in the entire cohort (HR 1.95; 95%CI 1.01-3.79; p = 0.047) and in the ER positive subgroup treated with adjuvant tamoxifen (HR 4.34; 95%CI 1.14-16.53; p = 0.032). This relationship between increased claudin-4 expression and adverse outcome was validated at the mRNA level in a DNA microarray dataset of 295 breast tumours. We conclude that high levels of claudin-4 protein are associated with adverse outcome in breast cancer patients, including the subgroup of patients treated with adjuvant tamoxifen.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.