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Histol Histopathol. 2012 Jun;27(6):785-92.

Molecular characterization of EGFR and EGFR-downstream pathways in triple negative breast carcinomas with basal like features.

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  • 1Institute of Pathology, Locarno, Switzerland.



Triple negative breast cancer with basal like features (TN-BCBL) do not benefit from hormonal and anti-HER2 therapies. As a considerable fraction of TN-BCBLs shows EGFR deregulation, EGFR-targeted therapies have been proposed as an option. The characterization of EGFR and EGFR-downstream members may therefore provide important predictive information.


Based on morphological and immunophenotypic features, we identified 38 TN-BCBLs that were subsequently investigated for alterations in EGFR signaling pathways. EGFR and PTEN protein levels were studied by immunohistochemistry, EGFR gene status by FISH, EGFR, H-Ras, K-Ras, N-Ras, BRAF and PIK3CA gene mutations by direct sequencing. EGFR overexpression and loss of PTEN expression characterized the majority of TN-BCBLs (76% and 74% of patients, respectively). EGFR gene copy number gain (FISH+) was identified in 51% of analyzable patients. PIK3CA gene mutations were detected in three cases (8%), whereas EGFR, H-Ras, K-Ras, N-Ras and BRAF genes showed no mutations. Overall, out of 17 patients classified as FISH+, 12 cases (70%) showed a concomitant alteration in PI3K/PTEN pathway.


These results provide evidence that the efficacy of anti-EGFR drugs in TN-BCBL patients could be impaired by frequent alterations in the PI3K/PTEN axis, and suggest that TN-BCBLs could benefit from tailored treatments against this axis.

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