Purpose: Given the clinical relevance of ESR1 mutations as potential drivers of resistance to endocrine therapy, this study used sensitive detection methods to determine the frequency of ESR1 mutations in primary and metastatic breast cancer, and in cell-free DNA (cfDNA).
Experimental design: Six ESR1 mutations (K303R, S463P, Y537C, Y537N, Y537S, D538G) were assessed by digital droplet PCR (ddPCR), with lower limits of detection of 0.05% to 0.16%, in primary tumors (n = 43), bone (n = 12) and brain metastases (n = 38), and cfDNA (n = 29). Correlations between ESR1 mutations in metastatic lesions and single (1 patient) or serial blood draws (4 patients) were assessed.
Results: ESR1 mutations were detected for D538G (n = 13), Y537S (n = 3), and Y537C (n = 1), and not for K303R, S463P, or Y537N. Mutation rates were 7.0% (3/43 primary tumors), 9.1% (1/11 bone metastases), 12.5% (3/24 brain metastases), and 24.1% (7/29 cfDNA). Two patients showed polyclonal disease with more than one ESR1 mutation. Mutation allele frequencies were 0.07% to 0.2% in primary tumors, 1.4% in bone metastases, 34.3% to 44.9% in brain metastases, and 0.2% to 13.7% in cfDNA. In cases with both cfDNA and metastatic samples (n = 5), mutations were detected in both (n = 3) or in cfDNA only (n = 2). Treatment was associated with changes in ESR1 mutation detection and allele frequency.
Conclusions: ESR1 mutations were detected at very low allele frequencies in some primary breast cancers, and at high allele frequency in metastases, suggesting that in some tumors rare ESR1-mutant clones are enriched by endocrine therapy. Further studies should address whether sensitive detection of ESR1 mutations in primary breast cancer and in serial blood draws may be predictive for development of resistant disease. See related commentary by Gu and Fuqua, p. 1034.
©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.