Intratumoral heterogeneity of microRNA expression in breast cancer

J Mol Diagn. 2012 Jul;14(4):376-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2012.01.016. Epub 2012 Jun 15.


Profiling studies have identified specific microRNA (miRNA) signatures in malignant tumors including breast cancer. Our aim was to assess intratumoral heterogeneity in miRNA expression levels within primary breast cancers and between axillary lymph node metastases from the same patient. Specimens of 16 primary breast cancers were sampled in 8-10 distinct locations including the peripheral, intermediate, and central tumor zones, as well as two to five axillary lymph node metastases (n = 9). Total RNA was extracted from 132 paraffin-embedded samples, and the expression of miR-10b, miR-210, miR-31, and miR-335 was assessed as well as the reproducibility of RNA extraction and miRNA analysis by quantitative RT-PCR. Considerable intratumoral heterogeneity existed for all four miRNAs within primary breast cancers (CV 40%). No significant differences within (CV 34%) or between different tumor zones (CV 33%) were found. A similar variation in miRNA expression was observed between corresponding lymph node metastases (mean CV 40%). In comparison, the variation among different patients showed a CV of 80% for primary tumors and 103% for lymph node metastases. Both miRNA extraction procedures and quantitative RT-PCR showed high reproducibility (CV ≤ 2%). Thus, the intratumoral heterogeneity of miRNA expression in breast cancers can lead to significant sampling bias. Assessment of breast cancer miRNA profiles may require sampling at several different tumor locations and of several tumor-involved lymph nodes when deriving miRNA expression profiles of metastases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • MicroRNAs