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Ann Oncol. 2008 Jan;19(1):73-80. Epub 2007 Oct 24.

ErbB/HER ligands in human breast cancer, and relationships with their receptors, the bio-pathological features and prognosis.

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  • 1Laboratoire d'Oncologie Moléculaire Humaine, Centre Oscar Lambret, BP 307, 59020 Lille Cedex, France.



The aim of this study is to provide an expression profile of ErbB/HER ligands in breast cancer. We analysed the relationships with their receptors, the bio-pathological features and prognosis.


Epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor-alpha (TGFalpha), amphiregulin (AREG), betacellulin (BTC), heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF), epiregulin (EREG) and neuregulins1-4 (NRG1-4) were quantified in 363 tumours by real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction using TaqMan probes.


Ligands were detected in 80%-96% of the cases, except NRG3 (42%) and EREG (45.5%). At least one ligand was expressed in 304 cases (cut-off: upper quartile). Almost all combinations of receptor and ligand co-expressions were observed, but TGFalpha is preferentially expressed in tumours co-expressing EGFR/HER3, NRG3 in those co-expressing EGFR/HER4, AREG and EREG in those co-expressing HER2/HER4. EGF and AREG were associated with estradiol receptors, small tumour size, low histoprognostic grading, high HER4 levels. TGFalpha, HB-EGF and NRG2 were negatively related to these parameters. In Cox univariate analyses, EGF was a prognostic factor.


Our study demonstrates that (i) ErbB/HER ligands, including BTC and EREG, are expressed in most breast cancers; and (ii) TGFalpha, HB-EGF and NRG2 high expressions are related to the biological aggressiveness of the tumours.

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