Background: HER2 serves as an important therapeutic target in gastroesophageal cancer. Differences in HER2 gene signal distribution patterns can be observed at the tissue level, but how it influences the HER2 amplification status has not been studied so far. Here, we investigated the link between HER2 amplification and the different types of gene signal distribution. Methods: Tumor samples from 140 patients with gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma where analyzed using the HER2 IQFISH pharmDx™ assay. Specimens covered non-amplified and amplified cases with a preselected high proportion of HER2 amplified cases. Based on the HER2/CEN-17 ratio, specimens were categorized into amplified or non-amplified. The signal distribution patterns were divided into homogeneous, heterogeneous focal or heterogeneous mosaic. The study was conducted based on anonymized specimens with limited access to clinicopathological data. Results: Among the 140 analyzed specimens 83 had a heterogeneous HER2 signal distribution, with 62 being focal and 21 of the mosaic type. The remaining 57 specimens had a homogeneous signal distribution. HER2 amplification was observed in 63 of the 140 specimens, and nearly all (93.7%) were found among specimens with a heterogeneous focal signal distribution (p<0.0001). The mean HER2/CEN-17 ratio for the focal heterogeneous group was 8.75 (CI95%: 6.87 - 10.63), compared to 1.53 (CI95%: 1.45 - 1.61) and 1.70 (CI95%: 1.22 - 2.18) for the heterogeneous mosaic and homogeneous groups, respectively, (p<0.0001). Conclusions: A clear relationship between HER2 amplification and the focal heterogeneous signal distribution was demonstrated in tumor specimens from patients with gastroesophageal cancer. Furthermore, we raise the hypothesis that the signal distribution patterns observed with FISH might be related to different subpopulations of HER2 positive tumor cells.
Keywords: FISH; HER2; companion diagnostics.; gastroesophageal cancer; signal distribution; tumor heterogeneity.