Folate receptor alpha (FRA) expression in breast cancer: identification of a new molecular subtype and association with triple negative disease

Springerplus. 2012 Sep 28;1:22. doi: 10.1186/2193-1801-1-22. eCollection 2012.


Given that several targeted therapies directed towards folate receptor alpha (FRA) are in late stage clinical development, the sensitive and robust detection of FRA in tissues is of paramount importance relative to patient selection, prognosis and prediction. In the present study we undertook an immunohistochemical evaluation of expression of FRA in breast cancer samples using formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues, primarily invasive ductal carcinomas, using a newly described monoclonal antibody, 26B3. Samples assessed included both tissue microarrays (TMA) and whole tissue sections from archival tissue blocks. Normal breast shows a highly restricted expression of FRA to luminal membrane staining of secretory ductal cells, consistent with FRA secretion into milk. In early stage (stages I-III) invasive ductal carcinomas, FRA staining was observed in approximately 30% of all samples, independent of molecular subtype (estrogen receptor (ER)/progesterone receptor (PR)/human epidermal growth factor receptor type 2 (Her2)). However, FRA expression was shown to associate with ER/PR negative tumors relative to ER/PR positive tumors (p = 0.012) and perhaps more importantly, with triple negative breast cancers (TNBC; p < 0.0001). FRA immunoreactivity was also shown to be retained in stage IV metastatic breast cancer samples from diverse anatomic sites including lymph node and bone. In metastatic breast cancer, FRA was shown to be expressed in 86% of TNBC patients. Taken together, these data suggest that FRA expressing breast cancer represents a novel molecular subtype and, further, may represent a new therapeutic target for this devastating disease.

Keywords: Breast cancer; FRA; Folate receptor alpha; IHC; Immunohistochemistry; Triple negative breast cancer.