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Breast Cancer Res. 2011 Jun 7;13(3):R62. doi: 10.1186/bcr2899.

Analysis of tumor environmental response and oncogenic pathway activation identifies distinct basal and luminal features in HER2-related breast tumor subtypes.

Author information

1
Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27708, USA.

Abstract

INTRODUCTION:

Breast cancer heterogeneity occurs as a consequence of the dysregulation of numerous oncogenic pathways as well as many non-genetic factors, including tumor microenvironmental stresses such as hypoxia, lactic acidosis, and glucose deprivation. Although the importance of these non-genetic factors is well recognized, it is not clear how to integrate these factors within the genetic framework of cancer as the next logical step in understanding tumor heterogeneity.

METHODS:

We report here the development of a series of gene expression signatures to measure the influences of microenvironmental stresses. The pathway activities of hypoxia, lactic acidosis, acidosis and glucose deprivation were investigated in a collection of 1,143 breast tumors, which have been separated into 17 breast tumor subgroups defined by their distinct patterns of oncogenic pathways. A validation dataset comprised of 547 breast tumors was also used to confirm the major findings, and representative breast cancer cell lines were utilized to validate in silico results and mechanistic studies.

RESULTS:

Through the integrative pathway analysis of microenvironmental stresses and oncogenic events in breast tumors, we identified many known and novel correlations between these two sources of tumor heterogeneity. Focusing on differences between two human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-related subgroups, previously identified based on patterns of oncogenic pathway activity, we determined that these subgroups differ with regards to tumor microenvironmental signatures, including hypoxia. We further demonstrate that each of these subgroups have features consistent with basal and luminal breast tumors including patterns of oncogenic signaling pathways, expression of subtype specific genes, and cellular mechanisms that regulate the hypoxia response. Importantly, we also demonstrate that the correlated pattern of hypoxia-related gene expression and basal-associated gene expression are consistent across HER2-related tumors whether we analyze the tumors as a function of our pathway-based classification scheme, using the intrinsic gene list (ERBB2+), or based on HER2 IHC status. Our results demonstrate a cell lineage-specific phenomenon in which basal-like tumors, HER2-related tumors with high hypoxia, as well as normal basal epithelial cells express increased mRNA levels of HIF-1α compared to luminal types and silencing of HIF-1α results in decreased expression of hypoxia-induced genes.

CONCLUSIONS:

This study demonstrates differences in microenvironmental conditions in HER2-related subgroups defined by distinct oncogenic pathway activities, and provides a mechanistic explanation for differences in the observed hypoxia response between these subgroups. Collectively, these data demonstrate the potential of a pathway-based classification strategy as a framework to integrate genetic and non-genetic factors to investigate the basis of tumor heterogeneity.

PMID:
21672245
PMCID:
PMC3218951
DOI:
10.1186/bcr2899
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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