Triple-negative breast lobular carcinoma: a luminal androgen receptor carcinoma with specific ESRRA mutations

Mod Pathol. 2021 Mar 22. doi: 10.1038/s41379-021-00742-9. Online ahead of print.


Primary triple-negative invasive lobular breast carcinomas (TN-ILCs), which do not express hormone receptors and HER2 at diagnosis, are rare and poorly known. In this study, we analyzed the largest TN-ILC series ever reported in the literature, in comparison to phenotypically similar breast tumor subtypes: triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma (TN-IDC) and hormone receptor-positive invasive lobular carcinoma (HR + ILC). All primary TN-ILCs registered in our database between 2000 and 2018 (n = 38) were compared to tumors from control groups, matched by stage and Elston/Ellis grade, with regard to clinical, pathologic, and immunohistochemical characteristics. A comparative molecular analysis (whole-exome and RNA sequencing using next-generation technology) was also performed. We found that TN-ILC patients were older than those with HR + ILC (P = 0.002) or TN-IDC (P < 0.001). Morphologically, TN-ILCs had aggressive phenotypes, with more pleomorphism (P = 0.003) and higher nuclear grades than HR + ILCs (P = 0.009). Immunohistochemistry showed that TN-ILCs less frequently expressed basal markers (CK5/6, EGFR and SOX10) than TN-IDCs (P < 0.001), while androgen receptor (AR) positivity was more prevalent (P < 0.001). Survival curves analysis did not show differences between TN-ILC and TN-IDC patients, while overall and distant metastasis-free survival were significantly worse compared to those with HR + ILCs (P = 0.047 and P = 0.039, respectively). At a molecular level, we found that TN-ILCs had particular transcriptomic profiles, characterized by increased AR signaling, and associated with frequent alterations in the PI3K network and ERBB2. Interestingly, whole-exome analysis also identified three specific recurrent ESRRA hotspot mutations in these tumors, which have never been described in breast cancer to date and which were absent in the other two tumor subtypes. Our findings highlight that TN-ILC is a unique aggressive breast cancer associated with elderly age, which belong to the luminal androgen receptor subtype as determined by immunohistochemistry and transcriptomic profiling. Moreover, it harbors specific molecular alterations (PI3K, ERBB2 and ESRRA) which may pave the way for new targeted therapeutic strategies.