The performance of BRCA1 immunohistochemistry for detecting germline, somatic, and epigenetic BRCA1 loss in high-grade serous ovarian cancer

Ann Oncol. 2014 Dec;25(12):2372-2378. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdu461. Epub 2014 Oct 3.


Background: BRCA1 expression can be lost by a variety of mechanisms including germline or somatic mutation and promotor hypermethylation. Given the potential importance of BRCA1 loss as a predictive and prognostic biomarker in high-grade serous ovarian cancer, we sought to evaluate the utility of BRCA1 immunohistochemistry (IHC) in screening for BRCA1 loss by germline, somatic, and epigenetic mechanisms.

Patients and methods: Patients with advanced high-grade serous ovarian cancer who had previously undergone germline BRCA1 testing were identified. Samples from each tumor were stained for BRCA1 and reviewed independently by two pathologists blinded to BRCA status. Tumors with abnormal BRCA1 IHC and wild-type germline testing underwent further evaluation for somatic BRCA1 mutations and promoter hypermethylation. McNemar's test was used to determine the association of BRCA1 IHC with germline BRCA1 mutations and BRCA1 loss through any mechanism. Kaplan-Meier methods were used to estimate overall survival (OS), and the log-rank test was used to assess differences between groups.

Results: Inter-rater reliability between the two pathologists on BRCA IHC interpretation was very good (kappa coefficient 0.865, P = 0.16; McNemar's test). BRCA1 IHC was abnormal in 36% (48/135) of cases. When compared with germline BRCA1 status, BRCA1 IHC had a high negative predictive value (95.4%) but a low positive predictive value (PPV, 52.1%). When accounting for promoter hypermethylation and somatic mutations as alternative methods of BRCA1 loss, the PPV rose to 87.5%. Five-year OS rate was 49.6% [95% confidence interval (CI) 26.3% to 69.3%] for patients with germline BRCA1 mutations, 50.4% (95% CI 27.5% to 69.5%) for germline wild-type BRCA1 and abnormal IHC, and 52.1% (95% CI 38.4% to 64.2%) for germline wild-type BRCA1 and normal IHC (P = 0.92).

Conclusions: BRCA1 IHC interpretation was a highly reproducible and accurate modality for detecting germline, somatic, or epigenetic mechanisms of BRCA1 loss. These results support further development of BRCA1 IHC as a potential biomarker for BRCA1 loss in high-grade serous ovarian cancer.

Keywords: BRCA1; biomarkers; genetic testing; hypermethylation; immunohistochemistry; ovarian cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1*
  • Germ-Line Mutation*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic