For quantitative microRNA analyses in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue, expression levels have to be normalized to endogenous controls. To investigate the most stably-expressed microRNAs in breast cancer and its surrounding tissue, we used tumor samples from primary tumors and from metastatic sites. MiRNA profiling using TaqMan(®) Array Human MicroRNA Cards, enabling quantification of 754 unique human miRNAs, was performed in FFPE specimens from 58 patients with metastatic breast cancer. Forty-two (72%) samples were collected from primary tumors and 16 (28%) from metastases. In a cross-platform analysis of a validation cohort of 32 FFPE samples from patients with early breast cancer genome-wide microRNA expression analysis using SurePrintG3 miRNA (8 × 60 K)(®) microarrays from Agilent(®) was performed. Eleven microRNAs could be detected in all samples analyzed. Based on NormFinder and geNorm stability values and the high correlation (rho ≥ 0.8) with the median of all measured microRNAs, miR-16-5p, miR-29a-3p, miR-126-3p, and miR-222-3p are suitable single gene housekeeper candidates. In the cross-platform validation, 29 human microRNAs were strongly expressed (mean log2-intensity > 10) and 21 of these microRNAs including miR-16-5p and miR-29a-3p were also stably expressed (CV < 5%). Thus, miR-16-5p and miR-29a-3p are both strong housekeeper candidates. Their Normfinder stability values calculated across the primary tumor and metastases subgroup indicate that miR-29a-3p can be considered as the strongest housekeeper in a cohort with mainly samples from primary tumors, whereas miR-16-5p might perform better in a metastatic sample enriched cohort.
Keywords: breast cancer; control; endogenous control; housekeeper; miR-16; miR-16-5p; microRNA.