Background: A strong positive correlation exists between the breast cancer tissue content of either urokinase-plasminogen activator (uPA) or plasminogen activator, inhibitor type I (PAI-1), quantified in the tissue extracts by immunoassays, and the survival of patients with breast cancer. Furthermore, several studies assign to the urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) a pivotal role in triggering the proteolytic activity of the urokinase pathway involved in tumor stroma degradation, tumor spread and metastasis. However, the pattern of distribution of uPAR in normal and cancerous human tissue and the pattern of coexpression of activators and inhibitors that occurs in breast cancer tissues is not completely known.
Methods: The immunohistochemical localization of uPAR, uPA, tPA) and PAI-1 was evaluated by using the avidin-biotin immunoperoxidase technique and affinity-purified monoclonal antibodies from American Diagnostica Inc. Studies were performed in formalin fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue prepared from 23 surgically excised non-neoplastic breast tissues and 18 ductal breast carcinomas.
Results: While the expression of uPAR protein represents a constant feature of invasive ductal breast cancer, it was also observed in most of the breast tissue samples, including the normal breast tissues. The staining for uPAR was mainly localized on normal or tumoral epithelial cells, even if the co-expression of uPAR in stromal cells was frequently observed in adjacent slides. A semiquantitative analysis of immunohistochemical results showed that uPAR and PAI-1 were overexpressed in invasive breast cancer in comparison with normal and benign breast tissues. In addition, uPA was higher in both invasive breast carcinomas and benign breast lesions with respect to normal breast tissues.
Conclusions: We showed that overexpression of uPAR, uPA, and its main inhibitor, PAI-1, is a constant feature of invasive ductal breast carcinomas. However, the expression of the above fibrinolytic reactants is not specific for breast cancer since positive staining for these molecules was frequently observed in benign breast lesions as well as in normal breast tissues. The combined increased expression of uPA and its cellular receptor, uPAR on the surface of tumor epithelial cells may account for the activation of the proteolytic system which occurs in breast cancer.