Purpose: Previous gene expression profiling studies of breast cancer have focused on the entire genome to identify genes differentially expressed between estrogen receptor (ER) alpha-positive and ER-alpha-negative cancers.
Experimental design: Here, we used gene expression microarray profiling to identify a distinct kinase gene expression profile that identifies ER-negative breast tumors and subsets ER-negative breast tumors into four distinct subtypes.
Results: Based on the types of kinases expressed in these clusters, we identify a cell cycle regulatory subset, a S6 kinase pathway cluster, an immunomodulatory kinase-expressing cluster, and a mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway cluster. Furthermore, we show that this specific kinase profile is validated using independent sets of human tumors and is also seen in a panel of breast cancer cell lines. Kinase expression knockdown studies show that many of these kinases are essential for the growth of ER-negative, but not ER-positive, breast cancer cell lines. Finally, survival analysis of patients with breast cancer shows that the S6 kinase pathway signature subtype of ER-negative cancers confers an extremely poor prognosis, whereas patients whose tumors express high levels of immunomodulatory kinases have a significantly better prognosis.
Conclusions: This study identifies a list of kinases that are prognostic and may serve as druggable targets for the treatment of ER-negative breast cancer.