Background: Prostate cancer (PCa) is characterized by high tumor heterogeneity. In 2005, the fusion between the androgen-regulated gene TMPRSS2 and members of the ETS family was discovered in prostate cancer. In particular, fusion of TMPRSS2 with ERG was found in approximately 50% of prostate cancers and considered as an early event in the onset of the disease. The prognostic value of this fusion is still contradictory. Bioinformatics showed that overexpression of SPINK1 gene in a subset of fusion-gene-negative prostate cancers was associated with a poor prognosis. In theory, overexpression of the tumor-associated trypsin inhibitor (TATI) protein encoded by SPINK1 in fusion-gene-negative tumor cells opens the way to selected treatments for genotypically different cases. However, their expression has never been assessed at the cellular level in the same tissue samples.
Methods: As ERG expression has been shown to be a surrogate of fusion gene occurrence in prostate cancer, we have used double immunohistochemical staining to assess expression of ERG and TATI on a large tissue microarray comprising 4177 cases of localized prostate cancer.
Results: We did not detect any co-expression of ERG and TATI in the same cancer cells, which confirms previous suggestions from in silico studies. ERG was associated with Gleason score (GS), surgical margins and pathological stage, but had no prognostic value in this cohort. TATI was weakly associated with pathological stage but had no significant association with outcome.
Conclusions: We here provide a morphological basis for ERG and TATI exclusivity in prostate cancer cells. Future therapies should be based on a combination of different targets in order to eradicate tumor cells with gene fusions and cells expressing other tumor-associated antigens. Further studies are needed to understand why ERG and TATI are not co-expressed in the same prostatic tumor cells.