E-cadherin to P-cadherin switching in lobular breast cancer with tubular elements

Mod Pathol. 2020 Dec;33(12):2483-2498. doi: 10.1038/s41379-020-0591-3. Epub 2020 Jun 22.


Loss of E-cadherin expression due to mutation of the CDH1 gene is a characteristic feature of invasive lobular breast cancer (ILBC). Beta-catenin, which binds to the cytoplasmic domain of E-cadherin, is simultaneously downregulated, reflecting disassembly of adherens junctions (AJs) and loss of cell adhesion. E-cadherin to P-cadherin expression switching can rescue AJs and cell adhesion. However, P-cadherin has not been implicated in ILBC, so far. We aimed to characterize 13 ILBCs with exceptional histomorphology, which we termed ILBCs with tubular elements. The CDH1 mutational status was determined by next generation sequencing and whole-genome copy number (CN) profiling. Expression of cadherins was assessed by immunohistochemistry. ILBCs with tubular elements were ER-positive (13/13) and HER2-negative (13/13) and harbored deleterious CDH1 mutations (11/13) accompanied by loss of heterozygosity due to deletion of chromosome 16q22.1 (9/11). E-cadherin expression was lost or reduced in noncohesive tumor cells and in admixed tubular elements (13/13). Beta-catenin expression was lost in noncohesive tumor cells, but was retained in tubular elements (11/13), indicating focal rescue of AJ formation. N-cadherin and R-cadherin were always negative (0/13). Strikingly, P-cadherin was commonly positive (12/13) and immunoreactivity was accentuated in tubular elements. Adjacent lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) was always P-cadherin-negative (0/7). In a reference cohort of LCIS specimens, P-cadherin was constantly not expressed (0/25). In a reference cohort of invasive mammary carcinomas, P-cadherin-positive cases (36/268, 13%) were associated with triple-negative nonlobular breast cancer (P < 0.001). Compared with ILBCs from the reference cohort, P-cadherin expression was more common in ILBCs with tubular elements (12/13 versus 7/84, P < 0.001). In summary, E-cadherin to P-cadherin switching occurs in a subset of ILBCs. P-cadherin is the molecular determinant of a mixed-appearing histomorphology in ILBCs with tubular elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, CD / analysis*
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cadherins / analysis*
  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / chemistry*
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / pathology
  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Female
  • Gene Dosage
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Loss of Heterozygosity
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • RNA-Seq


  • Antigens, CD
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CDH1 protein, human
  • CDH3 protein, human
  • Cadherins