The TP63 gene encodes two major protein variants that differ in their N-terminal sequences and have opposing effects. In breast, ΔNp63 is expressed by immature stem/progenitor cells and mature myoepithelial/basal cells and is a characteristic feature of basal-like triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs). The expression and potential role of TAp63 in the mammary gland and breast cancers is less clear, partly due to the lack of studies that employ p63 isoform-specific antibodies. We used immunohistochemistry with ΔNp63-specific or TAp63-specific monoclonal antibodies to investigate p63 isoforms in 236 TNBCs. TAp63, but not ΔNp63, was seen in tumour-associated lymphocytes and other stromal cells. Tumour cells showed nuclear staining for ΔNp63 in 17% of TNBCs compared to 7.3% that were positive for TAp63. Whilst most TAp63+ tumours also contained ΔNp63+ cells, the levels of the two isoforms were independent of each other. ΔNp63 associated with metaplastic and medullary cancers, and with a basal phenotype, whereas TAp63 associated with androgen receptor, BRCA1/2 wild-type status and PTEN positivity. Despite the proposed effects of p63 on proliferation, Ki67 did not correlate with either p63 isoform, nor did they associate with p53 mutation status. ΔNp63 showed no association with patient outcomes, whereas TAp63+ patients showed fewer recurrences and improved overall survival. These findings indicate that both major p63 protein isoforms are expressed in TNBCs with different tumour characteristics, indicating distinct functional activities of p63 variants in breast cancer. Analysis of individual p63 isoforms provides additional information into TNBC biology, with TAp63 expression indicating improved prognosis.
Keywords: Androgen receptor; BRCA1; BRCA2; PTEN; TAp63; Triple-negative breast cancer; ΔNp63.