Understanding the underlying reasons for tumor aggressiveness, such as why some tumors grow slowly and locally, while others rapidly progress to a lethal metastatic disease, is still limited. This is especially critical in breast cancer (BrCa) due to its high prevalence and also due to the possibility that it can be detected early. Several oncogenes and tumor suppressors have been identified and are used in the prognosis and treatment of BrCa. However, even with these markers, the outcome within BrCa subtypes is highly variable. Chromatin organization has long been acknowledged as a factor that plays an important role in tumor progression, but molecular mechanisms defining chromatin dynamics are largely missing. We have recently found that histone chaperone FACT (facilitates chromatin transcription) is overexpressed in ~18-20% of BrCa cases. FACT is elevated upon transformation of mammary epithelial cells and is essential for viability of tumor cells. BrCa cells with high FACT have a more aggressive transcriptional program than those with low FACT cells. Based on this we propose that FACT may be a marker of aggressive BrCa. In this study, we aimed to comprehensively characterize the pattern of FACT expression in BrCa in relation to other molecular and clinical prognostic markers. We developed and tested an assay for the detection and quantitation of protein levels of both FACT subunits, SSRP1, and SPT16, in clinical samples. We compared the value of mRNA and protein as potential markers of disease aggressiveness using a large cohort of patients (n=1092). We demonstrated that only SSRP1 immunohistochemical staining is a reliable indicator of FACT levels in tumor samples. High SSRP1 correlated with known markers of poor prognosis, such as negative hormone receptor status, presence of Her2, high-grade tumors, and tumors of later clinical stage. At the same time, no strong correlation between SSRP1 expression and survival was detected when all samples were analyzed together. Clear trend toward longer survival of patients with low or no SSRP1 expression in tumor samples was seen in several subgroups of patients, and most importantly significant association of high SSRP1 expression with shorter disease-free survival was detected in patients with early-stage and low-grade BrCa, the category of patients with the highest demand in predictive marker of disease progression.
Keywords: SPT16; SSRP1; breast cancer; predictive marker; prognosis.