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Pathol Res Pract. 2003;199(7):453-61.

Relative quantification of ERBB2 mRNA in invasive duct carcinoma of the breast: correlation with ERBB-2 protein expression and ERBB2 gene copy number.

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Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, 2nd School of Medicine, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.


The option to treat patients suffering from ERBB-2 protein-positive invasive duct carcinomas of the breast (IDC) with Herceptin requires a precise determination of the ERBB2 status. The aim of the study was to evaluate the ERBB2 mRNA level, placing emphasis on cases with discordant findings between ERBB-2 protein expression (IHC) and a copy number of the ERBB2 gene (FISH). Thirty-nine IDCs (21 cases IHC and FISH concordant, 15 cases moderately discordant, 3 cases markedly discordant) were investigated. ERBB2 mRNA expression was determined using quantitative real-time RT-PCR (Q-RT-PCR). IDCs with negative ERBB-2 protein and without ERBB2 gene amplification had a low ERBB2 mRNA level. Cases with 3+ overexpression of the protein and with strong gene amplification (> 10 copies/tumor cell) had a significantly increased expression of ERBB2 mRNA. In 13 of 15 IDCs with moderate discrepancies (up to 10 copies of the gene per one tumor cell/negative ERBB-2 protein; without amplification/2+ protein) mRNA was low, comparable to that in cases with negative ERBB-2 protein and without ERBB2 gene amplification. In three cases with markedly discordant findings (the gene amplified/protein negative--one case; protein 3+/no amplification--2 cases), Q-RT-PCR results were within a "normal" limit. Ineffective gene amplification and protein accumulation are suggested explanations. Q-RT-PCR revealed two cases with highly expressed ERBB2 mRNA and discordant FISH and/or IHC findings. Increased effectiveness of transcription (protein 2+/high mRNA/without the gene amplification), and combined dysregulation (protein negative/high mRNA/no amplification) are possible causes of these findings. Q-RT-PCR appears useful in clarifying borderline or discrepant IHC and FISH findings.

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