Extreme loss of immunoreactive p-Akt and p-Erk1/2 during routine fixation of primary breast cancer

Breast Cancer Res. 2010;12(5):R76. doi: 10.1186/bcr2719. Epub 2010 Sep 28.


Introduction: Very few studies have investigated whether the time elapsed between surgical resection and tissue fixation or the difference between core-cut and excision biopsies impact on immunohistochemically measured biomarkers including phosphorylated proteins in primary breast cancer. The aim of this study was to characterize the differences in immunoreactivity of common biomarkers that may occur (a) due to tissue handling at surgery and (b) between core-cuts and resected tumours.

Methods: Core-cuts taken from surgical breast cancer specimens immediately after resection (sample A) and after routine X-ray of the excised tumour (sample B) were formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded and compared to the routinely fixed resection specimen (sample C). The variation in immunohistochemical expression of Ki67, oestrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PgR), human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2), p-Akt and p-Erk were investigated.

Results: Twenty-one tissue sets with adequate tumour were available. Median time between collection of core-cuts A and B was 30 minutes (range 20 to 80). None of the markers showed significant differences between samples A and B. Similarly, Ki67, ER, PgR and HER2 did not differ significantly between core-cuts and main resection specimen although there was a trend for lower resection values for ER (P=0.06). However, p-Akt and p-Erk1/2 were markedly lower in resections than core-cuts (median 27 vs 101 and 69 vs 193, respectively; both P<0.0001 [two-sided]). This difference was significantly greater in mastectomy than lumpectomy specimens for p-Erk1/2 (P=0.01).

Conclusions: The delay in fixation in core-cuts taken after post-operative X-ray of resection specimens has no significant impact on expression of Ki67, ER, PgR, HER2, p-Akt or p-Erk1/2. However extreme loss of phospho-staining can occur during routine fixation of resection specimens. These differences are likely attributable to suboptimal fixation and may have major repercussions for clinical research involving these markers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Formaldehyde
  • Humans
  • Ki-67 Antigen / analysis
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / analysis*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / analysis*
  • Paraffin Embedding
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / analysis*
  • Tissue Fixation*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Formaldehyde
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • MAPK1 protein, human
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3