Metaplastic breast carcinomas display genomic and transcriptomic heterogeneity [corrected]

Mod Pathol. 2015 Mar;28(3):340-51. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2014.142. Epub 2014 Nov 21.


Metaplastic breast carcinoma is a rare and aggressive histologic type of breast cancer, preferentially displaying a triple-negative phenotype. We sought to define the transcriptomic heterogeneity of metaplastic breast cancers on the basis of current gene expression microarray-based classifiers, and to determine whether these tumors display gene copy number profiles consistent with those of BRCA1-associated breast cancers. Twenty-eight consecutive triple-negative metaplastic breast carcinomas were reviewed, and the metaplastic component present in each frozen specimen was defined (ie, spindle cell, squamous, chondroid metaplasia). RNA and DNA extracted from frozen sections with tumor cell content >60% were subjected to gene expression (Illumina HumanHT-12 v4) and copy number profiling (Affymetrix SNP 6.0), respectively. Using the best practice PAM50/claudin-low microarray-based classifier, all metaplastic breast carcinomas with spindle cell metaplasia were of claudin-low subtype, whereas those with squamous or chondroid metaplasia were preferentially of basal-like subtype. Triple-negative breast cancer subtyping using a dedicated website ( revealed that all metaplastic breast carcinomas with chondroid metaplasia were of mesenchymal-like subtype, spindle cell carcinomas preferentially of unstable or mesenchymal stem-like subtype, and those with squamous metaplasia were of multiple subtypes. None of the cases was classified as immunomodulatory or luminal androgen receptor subtype. Integrative clustering, combining gene expression and gene copy number data, revealed that metaplastic breast carcinomas with spindle cell and chondroid metaplasia were preferentially classified as of integrative clusters 4 and 9, respectively, whereas those with squamous metaplasia were classified into six different clusters. Eight of the 26 metaplastic breast cancers subjected to SNP6 analysis were classified as BRCA1-like. The diversity of histologic features of metaplastic breast carcinomas is reflected at the transcriptomic level, and an association between molecular subtypes and histology was observed. BRCA1-like genomic profiles were found only in a subset (31%) of metaplastic breast cancers, and were not associated with a specific molecular or histologic subtype.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoma / genetics*
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Metaplasia / genetics
  • Metaplasia / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor