Genomic signatures of pregnancy-associated breast cancer epithelia and stroma and their regulation by estrogens and progesterone

Horm Cancer. 2013 Jun;4(3):140-53. doi: 10.1007/s12672-013-0136-z. Epub 2013 Mar 12.


Pregnancy-associated breast cancers (PABC) generally present at advanced stages and have a poor prognosis. The reasons are unclear but we hypothesized that the continuous high levels of estrogens and progesterone were involved. We have now carried out a detailed analysis of PABC compared to tumors of age-matched nonpregnant (non-PABC) women. Malignant epithelia and tumor-associated stroma of PABC and non-PABC were isolated by laser capture microdissection and gene expression profiled. Additionally, normal breast epithelia and stroma adjacent to the two tumor types were analyzed. Lastly, subsets of previously identified E- and P-regulated genes were defined in all tissues. We find that PABC signatures cluster with established breast cancer subtypes. Major hormone-regulated genes whose expression correlated with epithelia of PABC dealt with regulation of cell proliferation, metabolism, and tumor aggressiveness, including genes used to predict tumor recurrence. Compared to normal epithelia, a significant number of genes associated with cell cycle processes were enriched in PABC, many of which are hormone regulated. Thus, compared to normal epithelia, many of the genes that were differentially expressed in epithelia of PABC were distinct from those differentially expressed in non-PABC. With regard to the tumor microenvironment, immune-related genes were enriched in tumor-associated stroma of PABC. Compared to normal stroma, PABC-associated stroma overexpressed immune response genes, while genes involved in angiogenesis and extracellular matrix deposition were more commonly downregulated. This suggests that the heightened aggressiveness of PABC may involve a predisposition to metastasis through extracellular matrix degradation, plus angiogenesis independence. Moreover, genes encoding cell proliferative factors, signaling, immunomodulators and cell death, were hormone regulated in stroma. In sum, these analyses demonstrate complex patterns of enrichment and hormonal regulation of genes in PABC and suggest that it may have a distinct biological nature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / genetics
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / pathology
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism
  • Stromal Cells / pathology


  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone