Alpha- and beta-adrenergic receptor (AR) protein expression is associated with poor clinical outcome in breast cancer: an immunohistochemical study

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2011 Nov;130(2):457-63. doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1371-z. Epub 2011 Feb 6.


Breast cancer mortality is frequently associated with metastatic disease. Metastasis models have shown adrenoceptor (AR) stimulation induces cell migration which is inhibited by adrenoceptor antagonist drugs. We investigated adrenoceptor protein expression in clinical breast tumours and its association with disease progression and prognosis. Immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays was used to characterise α1b, α2c and β(2)2 adrenoceptor protein expression in operable breast tumours. Associations with tumour-relevant biological markers and clinical outcome were statistically assessed. Strong α1b expression occurred in large high grade (P < 0.0001), HER2+ (P < 0.0001) or basal-like (CK5/6, P = 0.0005; CK14, P = 0.0001; EGFR, P = 0.003) cancers, showing increased proliferation (Mib1, P = 0.002), decreased apoptosis (Bcl2, P < 0.0001) and poor NPI membership (P = 0.001). α1b expression correlated with poor cancer-specific survival (LR = 7.628, P = 0.022) and tumour recurrence (LR = 6.128, P = 0.047). Strong α2c was over-expressed in high grade (P = 0.007), HER3+ (P = 0.002) and HER4+ (P < 0.0001) cancers with borderline increase in EGFR, p53 and MIB1 proteins, and inverse association with hormonal (PgR, P = 0.002) phenotype. In contrast, strong β(2) expression occurred in small-size, luminal-like (ER+, P < 0.001) tumours of low grade (P < 0.001) and lymph node stage (P = 0.027) that showed poor prognosis when hormonal treatment was withheld. Adrenoceptors were not found to be independent predictors of clinical outcome. Alpha1b and α2c AR is over-expressed in basal-like breast tumours of poor prognosis. Strong β(2) adrenoceptor expression is seen in patients with a luminal (ER+) tumour phenotype and good prognosis, due to benefits derived from hormonal therapy. These findings suggest a possible role for targeted therapy using adrenoceptor antagonists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / secondary
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / secondary
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Prognosis
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Tumor Burden


  • ADRA1B protein, human
  • ADRA2C protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2
  • Receptors, Estrogen